How We Met: Janet Street-Porter and Zandra Rhodes

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The Independent Culture
Janet Street-Porter, 47, started to train as an architect in 1965, but went into journalism after a year. She has worked in television since 1975; most recently as head of BBC youth programmes and, now, as the BBC's head of independent entertainment productions. Thrice divorced, she lives in London.

Zandra Rhodes, 53, studied textile design at the Royal College of Art from 1961 to 1964. By the early 1970s she had gained a reputation as a designer of outrageous punk fashion. She is currently launching a cosmetics range in Britain and America. She is single and lives in Bayswater.

JANET STREET-PORTER: I first saw Zandra in about 1965 at a party in London. I was in my first year at the Architectural Association and I think I was looking pretty weird at the time. I was very tall and thin and wore lots of silver clothes and silver hair spray. People often used to come up to me and say I looked like a Dalek. Then I saw Zandra and thought she really was the weirdest person there - even by my standards. She had these black and white checks painted above her eyes and her hair was dyed blue-black.

I really got to know her when she left the Royal College of Art and started her own business. By then I was design editor for Petticoat magazine. I used to go round to Zandra's studio and try all her clothes on. After that, a tradition grew up whereby my first husband, Tim Street-Porter, and I would have dinner every Saturday night with Zandra and her partner, Alex MacIntyre.

At the time they were building a house in Notting Hill, and everything was covered in plastic. Zandra would always be doing a bit of carpentry with her Black & Decker drill while we were trying to eat, which was very irritating. She's one of those brilliant people who is very down to earth and practical but also really eccentric.

When she started up her first shop on the Fulham Road, I bought a pair of shorts - I've still got the receipt. On the opening night I modelled all her clothes, and Tim photographed me for the front cover of Petticoat. We were all really close - and pretty arrogant. We were part of a group of people that went to see lots of movies, and there were lots of Italian films we used to play small parts in - I was in Antonioni's Blow Up.

I have a very close group of friends from that time: Zandra, the architect Piers Gough who I studied with, my ex-husbands, even their wives, are like family. I think people outside my world find that really hard to understand. None of us is any use to the others in career terms, which is, I think, why we get on so well. And having a nucleus of friends outside our particular business has given both of us stability.

I have seen Zandra really down, and she has certainly seen me up and down. On the whole, though, both of us have a rather positive attitude to life. From very early on we've been enthusiastic and open to new ideas. I don't think either of us has really grown up. Perhaps we have stayed young because without children we have no responsibility to anyone except ourselves. In that sense it's quite hard to work out how old we are. What does change, though, as you get into your forties, is your attitude to work. I did decide that I would never allow work to take over my life to the extent that it took over Zandra's. She has always been building up her career, and it has just been one long struggle. Although she has relaxed a bit now, the difference is that she owns her own business, whereas I have always worked for other people. I certainly do a lot more walking and staying at my house in the country, but she now makes more time for her drawing and painting.

Zandra has always been very curious and knowledgeable about art. She is highly receptive to ideas from a wide variety of sources, and I think that's what we recognise in each other. People have said that we're both typical Sixties people, which I don't agree with. I think we take from whatever is happening at the time. I certainly don't like Sixties art or fashion, and I hate hippies. Like Zandra, I have always been interested in new things, and in what happens next rather than what happened last.

Although I have a sister, Zandra is like another type of sister to me. She is fantastically loyal. I believe that she is an artist, and that comes before anything else. When what you are doing is really avant-garde, you need people who are your friends unequivocally - ones who you know are on your side.

ZANDRA RHODES: I really started to hang around with Janet when she had just left the Architectural Association and was with the photographer Tim Street-Porter. I can't remember the first meeting - it was as if we had known each other for ever. We had a lot in common and were deeply involved in each other's ideas.

When she was fashion editor at Petticoat magazine, she used to come round to my studio a lot and try on all my clothes. She often says that my outfits are the only ones she's kept from that time. We had great adventures together. All of us would stay in Tim's parents' house in Wales. We used to climb and walk for hours. I'd get up early in the morning to bake bread and in the evenings we'd sit talking beside a huge fire.

We've always been enthusiastic people. Both of us are very active. We like doing and making things happen. We get on with different things, but I think we are equally strong, definite characters. Our lives have always been busy, although mine gets more so with all the travelling. The reason we get on so well is that we're both living extensions of our jobs: our careers have defined us. But although I'm sure we put in similarly long hours, I feel she probably has her stuff more in proportion than I do.

Her life is more sociable than mine. I spend a lot of time behind the scenes designing and fitting dresses, whereas her work has a more human aspect to it. Luckily, we've never been compet itive about our careers - we're in such different fields that we've never had to be.

I've always envied her values - they seem more in place than mine. She has greater stability than me. She manages to fit in domesticity with a top career - she even makes her own jam. She has an ability to put time aside and do humanising things. I don't always think I'm human enough. Janet has always been true to herself. She says what she thinks, and is incredibly good at guiding her career. She's outspoken and strong enough to stop something if it's going in the wrong direction. I don't know if I've ever been as brave as her.

I don't imagine either of us will become a typical 'old person'. Considering that she doesn't have children, she's amazingly young in outlook. If you're like Janet and me, you don't have children to push you on to new things. We've never talked about not having them - I don't know if I can imagine Janet with one. I thought maybe I wanted one in my forties, but they've passed me by now. With the way I work plus the fact that I'm single, I can't think of anything more hideous. My career would always come first. My friends are my family. If you're unmarried they have a wonderful meaning for you.

Janet's very strong and deliberate about keeping friends separate from her work. Over the last five or six years we have seen each other less, but when we are together it's as if nothing had changed. We send each other loads of postcards - I got one from her only this morning. Now and again we'll talk about relationships. She's very positive and believes that if something's not right, move on to the next thing.

She's always done better with her partners than I have. I can never remember her being alone. I think it's wonderful she gets on so well with all her ex-husbands. She has dinner parties where they're all invited - I admire that about her. When I parted with Alex, he didn't want anything to do with me.

Over the 30 years that I've known her, I've sometimes thought she was hard, but aren't we all? Sometimes she's so rude to me, and yet she makes it so funny. If she is rude, it's only in her own way. I'm sure that with age you become a more extreme version of what you started out as - I think Janet has. I'm sure I have too. There's nothing you could alter about her - it's completely ingrained. She can go too far sometimes, but then that's Janet.-

(Photograph omitted)