On the Colour Couch with fashion and textile designer Dame Zandra Rhodes

little book of colour on the colour couch with founder and designer dame zandra rhodes

The first thing people ask me when I say I’ve interviewed Dame Zandra Rhodes for the Colour Couch is ‘is she nice?’. I think we always hope our heroes will be nice when we meet them in person.  And it was really easy for me to reply, Zandra is so friendly and down to earth because she is.    

The name Zandra Rhodes may sound familiar to you, it’s because she has been a well-known name for many decades. Zandra emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of the “Swinging London” fashion scene, which challenged traditional fashion norms.  Zandra did this through her use of bold colours and intricate patterns, which she is became well known for.

Her innovative designs have led her to be a sought-after designer for celebrities, musicians, and the British royal family.  She has had exhibitions around the world and is the founder of the Fashion & Textile Museum in London. And of course if you know her,  you’ll know her iconic pink hair which has become her trademark.

I connected with Zandra through a past Colour Couch interviewee, textile designer Kitty Joseph. And I’m so delighted to have the opportunity to interview Zandra because we have such a shared love of colour. So much so that I asked her a couple of extra colourful questions that I wanted to know the answer to, and I’m sure you will too.

So without further ado,  it’s over to the iconic Dame Zandra Rhodes.

What does colour mean to you?

It’s funny, I look around and I see all these people in grey and navy and for some reason I’m usually in colour. I find colour just makes me feel very good. I think it does have that effect. It brightens one’s life up instead of walking around in grey and feeling down.

I look around and I’m trying to spot the colour. I don’t understand why there’s so much grey? Maybe it’s easier. I haven’t got a clue. Where does colour go? They’ve invented all these lovely dyes, but people tend to be in the black and grey. It just makes you feel happy when you see colour.

Do you have a favourite colour or a colour that you find yourself constantly drawn to? And why?

I enjoy pink. It tends to look like it’s my favourite colour because of my pink hair. What sometimes happens, for example right now I’m wearing a nice warm pink jacket which one of the girls who works with me saw on sale, and she said it could only be for me. So right now I’m looking very pink.

Before that I was looking very red, white and blue in my t-shirt. But I don’t have a particular favourite colour, sometimes it might mean that we’ve made a print up and it looks gorgeous and therefore I decide that’s what I’m going to wear. So it might pink, or it might be bright yellow, it could be a fabulous bright blue, but it’s usually a colour of some kind.

I had to ask Zandra about her iconic pink hair…

Why did you pick pink to dye your hair?

Originally in 1973 I decided I’d like to dye my hair green, but the dyes weren’t very strong, and the green faded to be like funny old dry grass. Pink ended up being one of those very easy colours, it’s very easy maintenance and so I don’t have to do too much for it to stay pink. They’ve now perfected a whole lot of dyes so probably green and purple would last equally, but by the time you’ve got to my age, it’s easy to be slightly set in your ways – there’s the pink, I know that it works.

What do you love most about working with colour?

I think colour makes you feel happy. I think you can make lovely statements with colour, and it brings joy. Yesterday I was working on a new range that we’ve just done for Wallis and the colours were happy. We were in a room with lots of lovely green leaves and we were in greens and blues and pinks and the whole day felt very happy. 

Several years ago, a newspaper gave me a challenge to wear black every day and I found it very difficult. It made me feel very boring and a bit dreary. It didn’t make me feel smart and alive. I think there are hidden effects to colour. A lot of people falsely think that if you wear black it doesn’t show things, but you can see dirt on black. 

What do you think your life would be like without colour? 

I can’t imagine it since I’m surrounded by colour.  My bedroom has black wallpaper with shocking pink Manhattan design over it. My main room is rainbow. It’s got a rainbow floor and walls and the plants are out on the terrace, so it’s all bright, airy and colourful. 

Were you ever afraid or wary of colour? And what did you do to overcome this?

I don’t think it’s ever been something I’ve thought of. Right from even being quite young, my mother made me a lovely blue ballerina type skirt that was bright turquoise with printed fishes on it with other bright colours.

I think I’ve always worn quite bright colours. When I think back, I’ve always been drawn to colour. 

I’ve always followed my own colour preferences. My mother didn’t wear particularly bright colours, but she was very exotic and wore bright red lipstick.   

A lot people will think should I choose a bright colour, will I get tired of it? But I don’t find I get tired of any colour. Being a textile designer, I tend to go towards things with a pattern on them. I find it wears well and lasts.

Many designers say they prefer to work in all white rooms, and wear all black or white so that nothing distracts them from focusing on colour. Do you experience this?

No, not at all. I’m just thinking of another textile designer I know very well, Natalie Gibson and she’s usually in bright pink and turquoise and she’s got pink hair. I haven’t seen her in anything but bright colours. One of my lovely girls is in bright blue today so no I don’t, I haven’t noticed that.

For anyone afraid of colour what would your number 1 piece of advice be?

For me it might even be if people are afraid of print. People might think they should be in something plain. As a print designer that’s my job. To me I just think of colour that it makes me feel very happy. You feel you might get fed up with a strong colour. You could match it with things. Try it on and look at yourself in the mirror. Does it make you feel happy?

Is it that you feel you stand out too much? If I saw someone in the street wearing bright colour, I wouldn’t think they stood out too much. It would be nice to see bright colours. They make you smile, and they make you feel happy for the day.

Which colourful person do you most admire and would love me to interview for the On the Colour Couch series?

Designer Natalie Gibson who also teaches at the Central St. Martins and artist sculptor Andrew Logan.

I hope you enjoyed reading Zandra’s colour journey and stories as much as I did hearing them. I just love her question ‘where does colour go?’. When Zandra said this to me, I remember thinking this is such a great question. We’ve never been at a time where we have so many colours available to us to choose from and yet the most popular colours, especially in clothing are still black, grey and navy.   

If after reading this you want to brighten up your life with colour as Zandra says, I say go slowly being to introduce colour and notice how you feel so that you can dial the colour up or down and also play around with the proportions. 

If you would like to discover more about Dame Zandra Rhodes and her colourful textiles and clothes, head over to her Instagram @zandra_rhodes.

To find out more about the Fashion Museum head over to @fashiontextilemuseum.

Wishing you a colourful day,

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