Zandra Rhodes: Pink flamingo

By Zoe Walker

With her pink hair, bold prints and theatrical jewellery, Zandra Rhodes is the antithesis of Dunedin's dark and moody style stereotype.

The colourful designer is a special guest at Dunedin's annual iD fashion event this week, showcasing new and vintage pieces at the Dunedin iD fashion show on Friday and Saturday evening, as well as acting as a guest judge at the Emerging Designer Awards tonight. Her advice to the young designers whose work she will be judging?

"Don't give up; stick to your beliefs. It's very difficult to survive, but survive by whatever means you can. Maybe by forming little groups so it makes a community, so you can have an identity - it does help you, very much so," says 69-year-old Rhodes, whose own identity is probably marked most distinctively by her cheerful bright pink hair. "The most difficult thing is being able to keep your originality."

Being original is an important thing for Rhodes, who launched her label in London in the 1960s. Her distinctive textile designs were considered outrageous at the time, but that flamboyance won over well-known fans and customers like Princess Diana, Jackie Kennedy and Freddie Mercury.

Her print and patterns adorn floaty dresses, jackets and kaftans, and have been translated into diffusion ranges for English department store Marks and Spencer and outdoor clothing brand Millets - that quirky collection includes printed teepees, rubber boots, anoraks and thermos flasks.

She has lent her name to the costumes and sets for the San Diego opera, the perfect theatrical collaboration for her bold prints.

Rhodes - who lives between London and San Diego - considers herself to be more of an artist who happens to be working in the field of fashion, and credits her enduring popularity with the fact that her work is like no one elses - "They have a distinctiveness that makes them special. It's not a me-too." But with the industry's current focus on luxury and big brands, Rhodes says it is becoming harder for originality to shine.

"It's becoming more and more difficult for someone with originality to break out, because of the commercialisation of 'the brand'. When I first started I came to America and showed my clothes to American Vogue, and they publicised them - now it would be quite difficult for something like that to happen because if you don't buy pages of advertising, you wouldn't get coverage."

For now, she is focusing on fashion's ability to make people feel wonderful. "If you can make people feel wonderful - in whatever way, I mean some people do things only in black. But I think I can make dresses that make people feel wonderful for their one of a kind occasion. They make people feel special when they put them on: it makes them happy."

- NZ Herald

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