Dame Zandra Rhodes On Why Her Iconic Penthouse Quelled Her Desire To Travel Last Year
It’s so colorful.
In TZR’s franchise, Interior Motives, celebrities and tastemakers discuss their unique approach to home design and how it reflects their personal aesthetic.
While neon-colored hair may appear to be a recent trend embraced during the pandemic as a means to lift spirits and keep things light and bright, for Dame Zandra Rhodes, it’s been a way of life for 42 years. The eccentric veteran designer matter-of-factly states that she’s sported her own highlighter-pink hair since 1979. “I’ve had it green, then purple, and eventually I got pink on it after going to China in 1979,” says Rhodes to TZR. “And it’s been pink ever since because it’s so easy to keep up and it covers a multitude of sins. I can’t imagine myself with anything else.”
The thing is, this type of high-octane style extends past Rhodes’ laser-cut bob and bangs, spilling into every nook and cranny of her life and surroundings, including her whimsical print-clad designs and vibrant London penthouse. The latter, in particular, is truly a testament to her passion for the over-the-top, and has developed an almost mythical reputation within the fashion and interior worlds, dubbed a “cheer-inducing maximalist dream” by Harpers Bazaar in 2019. And it really is.
Rhodes’ palatial living space is nestled on top of The Fashion & Textiles Museum, which also happens to be founded by the designer. Within the tangerine orange building (designed by famed Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta) is nothing short of a mythical fairy kingdom in which Rhodes rules joyfully and all shades, patterns, and textures are welcome.
Though Rhodes’ 50+-year career has hit monumental milestones (she’s dressed everyone from Freddie Mercury to Princess Diana) and taken her all over the world, her colorful, celebratory home has become her life source for inspiration, especially over the past year, which she says has been the busiest. “All these projects have come to fruition, for example, with Happy Socks,” says Rhodes, referencing her latest collaboration with the popular sock brand. “[We did a lot of discussions] by Zoom, but then we did filming here in my penthouse. So, I didn’t go very far. I was having to now create everything around me instead of going somewhere and having other people create some of it.”
Between the hydrangea-filled terrace and crinoline-inspired chandelier hanging above a sherbet-colored dining table, it’s not surprising that Rhodes’ rainbow home is also a valuable marketing tool. It’s just so darn fun. “I don’t believe there’s really any color that doesn’t go together,” says Rhodes. “I think we can all take risks and see what we can put together and it would all look happy. Color makes you feel happy. In this time of being shut in, I’ve been lucky to be in a nice, large rainbow space where I can just be happy and have a tea party.”
Ahead, the British icon discusses her favorite little corner in her patterned palace, how she’s spent the past year indoors, and what it’s like dressing a princess.
You’re obviously known for your vibrant fashion designs, but have you always had a flair for home aesthetics as well?
I originally trained as a textile designer and I was designing for curtains and carpets. But, I didn’t manage to sell my designs and I thought, Well, what would they look like on the human body? I then ended up going into fashion from 1969 to present day. [Over the years], I’ve jumped at the idea of trying other things like a whole interior lot for IKEA and this collaboration with Happy Socks. So, it’s been quite perfect for me, doing all sorts of things you can put a pattern on and live with it in a different way.
What’s one of your favorite corners or pieces in your home?
The carved chairs and screens from an Indian tea party, in which you sit on the ground. I did an ashram in South India in the year 2000, and [these pieces] represent the earth.
Do you find your penthouse is a source of constant inspiration?
Yes! All of a sudden my own garden will start blooming, so suddenly I’ve got things that I never noticed because I was always traveling.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy drawing in my sketchbook. And, in this moment, I’ve been redesigning my bedroom interior, suddenly thinking, I’ve never looked at it before. I’ve always been traveling and asleep on a plane. Now suddenly, I’ve got to think of what I’m going to do with an interior [space].
Do you miss traveling? What city or country do you miss the most?
At the start of lockdown, I thought I’d like to go see Machu Pichu, but at the moment it’s been so busy. I haven’t even had time to consider if I should be going somewhere. I now look out the window and think, This is really quite nice. I’ve been given time to rethink in a totally different way which has been lovely.
I have to ask about Princess Diana. What was it like dressing her?
She first came bouncing into my shop with her friend Fergie [Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York] and she bought Fergie a dress, one of my lovely pink dresses with Manhattan printed all over it. A bit later on, she came in and we made the lovely dress you always think of: the off-the-shoulder pink dress she wore when she announced she was pregnant in Japan. I remember her saying, ‘I have to sit down and we have to imagine I’m getting out of a car. You can always be sure there’s going to be a plainclothes photographer waiting, and it must not be too revealing.’
You’ve worked with so many high-profile celebrities over the course of your career — any other favorites you can think of?
It was very special when Freddie Mercury came around to choose his outfit for the concert that you always remember him in ... that particular pleated outfit. There was no changing room in the studio, so I pulled it out and said, ‘Try that.’ So he moved around the room to see how he felt. It’s just funny thinking about that now. And now it’s the outfit they always remember him in.
What are your hopes for the year ahead?
I hope that we figure out a way for the fashion industry to survive without being a vast industry that’s too greedy. I think that we’ve also got to consider the continuation of the planet. We can live a bit inspirationally but it doesn’t always have to be returned with too big of an expenditure.