Zandra Rhodes in 1970, the year after Diana Vreeland first featured her garments in Vogue / Getty Images
Jack Sunnucks on the fashion designer, 75 today

Del Mar, a quiet suburb of San Diego, wouldn't seem like the obvious place to find one of British fashion's true greats. It is, however, where Zandra Rhodes – the pink-haired populariser of the kaftan – now spends most of her year. But then, as the hair attests, she's anything but conventional.

Rhodes's personal style – bold, bright, inventive – is reflected in her work. The aesthetic come largely from her mother, a fitter for a Paris fashion house, whose silver-sprayed hair and exotic attire initially embarrassed Zandra, but eventually became her inspiration.

After she graduated from the Royal College of Art, British manufacturers refused to produce her then-outrageous designs, with their undulating, sinuous abstractions and zig-zagging hems. So she made her own dresses.


By 1969 she and her clothes had come to the attention of Diana Vreeland, then editor of Vogue, who went wild for her exuberant palette and featured her clothes in the magazine, so launching Rhodes's career in the US. The admiration went both ways. Rhodes said of Vreeland: "She could recolour the world with whatever she said or did."

Rhodes invariably cut against the grain. When she seized on punk, for example, in 1977 – the first high-fashion designer to do so – her designs were feminine, her shredded jerseys silk, her safety-pins bejewelled.

She went on to dress Princess Diana, Liz Taylor and Bianca Jagger, and when demand for her frocks waned, she diversified. She designed sets and costumes for operas, and set up the Fashion and Textile Museum in London and duly devoted many exhibitions to her own work.

This fashion week, Rhodes has made a grand return, opening the spring/summer 2016 shows yesterday – timely, as we're experiencing what Vogue contributing editor, André Leon Talley, once dubbed "a famine of beauty". If anyone can rectify that, it's Zandra Rhodes.

Jack Sunnucks is senior editor of LOVE