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Interview: Zandra Rhodes and Tyler Johnston Unplugged

In the global worlds of fashion, art and design, Zandra Rhodes needs no introduction… With her irrepressible energy, questing creativity and refusal to conform, Zandra has forged a global reputation for her extraordinarily beautiful, highly collectible work. While her wonderful textile museum in South East London is an inspiration to lovers of fashion and the applied arts all over the world.

 

With her signature vibrant colors, exquisite fabrics and vivid patterns, Zandra’s hot pink, fringed bob has become her style trademark. So, it was extraordinary that when she and Tyler Johnston first met, 15 years ago, she simply told him to “do what you want with my hair”, which ended up in a pretty radical undercut, which Zandra loved. They hit it off immediately and have worked together on photo shoots and collections many times since – and today, Tyler was able to grab a few minutes in Zandra’s hectic schedule to ask her some questions about her life and inimitable style…

 

Tyler: “From the first day I met you, to this morning at 8.30 when you’ve come straight from the airport, I’ve always loved your energy and drive. Where does it come from and have you always been like that?”

 

Zandra: “I think it comes from my mother! She and my sister are exactly the same way as me. My mother never stopped and neither does my sister.”

 

Tyler: “Your hair is your trademark. Yet the first time you came to me you said to do what you want and were really up for trying a pretty extreme undercut. Are you always happy to put yourself in other people’s hands? Or was it just an instinct that we’d work well together?”

 

Zandra: “I believe you have to trust your instincts. You’re at the top of your profession so why should I tell you what to do? But I do have to have a fringe (I didn’t tell you that, but you left it there!). I try to work with only the best, especially where hair is concerned, and to get the best you have to allow ‘freedom of expression’. Hair is one of the most important things in my life and I have been lucky enough to work with only the best – including yourself!”

 

Tyler: “From your pink bob to your electric blue eyeliner, you’ve always had unique personal style. We probably know the answer to this question, but can you imagine just looking ordinary – with natural-looking hair color and make-up? How would it feel?”

 

Zandra: “I once dyed my hair dark brown, as my partner is very conservative. As soon as I did it I felt boring! Not only did I not feel myself but it proved to be embarrassing. If we were at a party, I would have people asking what my name was and what I did. When I told them I was Zandra Rhodes they would gasp and say [something like], oh sorry I didn’t recognize you!

 

Tyler: “You travel a lot and now divide your time between the UK and California, what do you love about London? Do you still find a distinctive vibrancy on the street as you did when you started out?”

 

Zandra: “London is my base. Where I develop my inspirations. I have my fab studio attached to the side of the Fashion and Textile Museum. I have amazing friends (Andrew Logan and Duggie Fields) who are very creative as well. They encourage and stretch me. They don’t hesitate to tell the truth either. Additionally, my Fashion and Textile Museum and my colorful penthouse are now at the centre of a street of wonderful independent shops.”

 

Tyler: “You’ve talked in the past about being inspired by travel – do you choose places to visit specifically for inspiration or do you find it everywhere you go?”

 

Zandra: “I love to go to less developed places where communication is difficult and where I don’t feel at home or too comfortable. For example, going to Morocco at the wrong time of the year and walking right up into the Atlas Mountains meeting ancient nomads and children with runny noses. I sketch all the time and capture landscapes and people who are not in the tourist brochures.”

 

Tyler: “You’ve always done everything in your business – from making your own clothes to showcase your fabrics, to setting up your wonderful textile museum (it opened not long after we met). Do you work better solo or with other people?”

 

Zandra: “No one can do things totally alone. I have wonderful backup staff. My partner Salah Hassanein, who was the president of Warner Brothers Theaters, totally helped me convert the warehouse I bought into the Fashion and Textile Museum that it now is. I could only develop my textiles and the resulting garments through my team.”

 

Tyler: “Do you think society sees creative expression as something for the young? Why do you think so many women retreat into safe and more conventional personal style as they get older? Do you think if they’re offered more diverse choices they would embrace them?”

 

Zandra: “Many people are restrained by their partners, I feel. Of course the world is geared towards the young! But women’s personal style when they are older can be fabulous and rises above fashion. I am not sure about whether or not many of them would jump to more diverse choices. Many people seem to play it safe when they are in a relationship. When you get older and bypass all of that, you are free to totally express yourself.”

 

Tyler: “Your energy, passion and creativity aren’t showing any sign of slowing down (and why should they?). Is there anything you still have a burning desire to achieve in life that you haven’t yet?”

 

Zandra: “I think I would like a shop again – so I have a visible flagship. Long term, probably when I’m pushing up the daisies, I would like my legacy to expand and become a household name.”