The last thing that Zandra Rhodes wants people to think is that they need to look like her to wear her clothes. Years ago an ex-partner accused her of frightening the clients. “People that really know me accept the way I look; I don’t try to look freaky.”
At the moment her hair – always dressed by Leonard – is short and orange-quilled, her eyebrows are a thin bright orange line, her eyelids half blue and half red, her cheeks highly rouged. “I think I was the first person to have my hair dyed green; then I put feathers at the end of it; then I had it green and blue. I’ve had this make-up since my show in April. I do a look to death. Before this one I think my eyes were blood-purple with silver and green round the outside and glitter-dots in the middle of my face for eyebrows; then I painted solid red all round the outside.”
Her clothes are as unusual as her make-up – she will frill, flounce, feather, sequin, print, dye and cut extraordinary dresses that she thinks look as good on the over-45s as on the young, slim and beautiful. Because her mother taught dressmaking and worked for Worth in Paris, she never learnt to sew or cut a pattern. She studied fabric design at the Royal College and has been making her own collection for only four years; her printing is done with her print-partner and boyfriend Alex McIntyre. Alex and Zandra usually work, at the print and dressmaking works just round the corner from Zandra’s Bayswater flat, from six in the morning till 11 at night, so it’s not surprising that Zandra has earned a reputation for falling asleep everywhere.
Four printers and seven dressmakers make everything – one dress usually takes one girl from start to finish about two days, and will cost from £150. “I can’t possibly compete with a production line so I concentrate on the things being really special, so that if you’re sitting at the dinner table you can see that the hand-rolling is as expensive as your jewellery.”
She already feels that she dresses “the so-called International Set” who pitch camp in London several times a year. To accommodate them properly she wants to open her own modern couture salon selling everything from furs to perfume. “I’ll work to make people look beautiful; I know that by an accident of Fate I can.”