Zandra Rhodes: The fashion icon talks embarrassing mums, Freddie Mercury, being punk and going pink


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Fashion is in my blood My mother was a fitter for a Paris fashion house and looked different from all the other kids' parents who came to school: exotic skirts, silver-sprayed hair and long earrings. She looked fabulous but you don't want parents looking different so I would say, "Please don't wear too much make-up, mum." Eventually, though, it gave me inspiration for my career.

I changed the concept of print I went into textiles first as I loved the idea of cutting them up, distorting them and putting them back together. But they were considered too outrageous by manufacturers, so I made my own dresses. Back then [in the 1960s], people were using wallpaper design, or furnishing fabrics for dresses, rather than prints. People would say, "Why are you doing dresses? You're just a textile designer."

Print designers are still the Cinderellas of the industry Nowadays, with people such as Mary Katrantzou, print is the message. But so often print designers have been unacknowledged for their contribution, which is why I founded the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2003. The only reason [textile designer] Celia Birtwell has been acknowledged is because [fashion designer] Ossie Clark died. He never talked about her when he was in the business.

I've had wonderful people knock on my door Musicians such as Freddie Mercury and Cher, film aristocracy, all coming to get clothes. Freddie would come at the end of the day so no one else was there and he'd try on pieces and strut up and down in them. I hadn't designed any menswear before then, but I realised he'd need a flamboyant look. Nowadays Tom Ford collects my stuff; its always a delight when someone wears your things; it's like a badge of approval.

Being called the Princess of Punk was a wonderful compliment It was after I did my pink and black jersey collection, which had all these holes and safety pins in them. The clientele at my shop couldn't get their head around that; they were so shocked by the punk style that I had to remove it from the front window, because it put people off.

I dyed my hair pink after my first visit to China I visited there in 1980, saw red everywhere – in the uniforms and the flags – and I decided pink would do for my hair colour from them on. My hair was green before that, but that colour doesn't last very long, because it fades badly in the sun.

You mustn't live in the past I could say my work hasn't had the recognition it's due, but it makes you sound like a bitter old woman. All you can do is accept it and come up with new ideas. But as you get older, you become more aware of having to be commercial, so you don't take the risks you probably should.

Being copied is a backhanded compliment I opened a magazine a few years ago and there was a double-page spread of a woman wearing what looked like one of my jackets. Except it wasn't quite copied perfectly. But if you got knotted up by that, who knows where you'd end up.

I'm a bit of a poser One always wants to be remembered with photographs; a snap here and there; one of me at the Oscars; another at a fashion show. But my husband [the former Warner Brothers president Salah Hassanein] won't pose for photos, so I have to try to catch him unawares – for someone of 92, he can move fast if he wants to.

Zandra Rhodes CBE, 72, is a fashion designer best known for her colourful, eccentric designs. Zandra Rhodes: Unseen is showing at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London SE1, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, until 31 August (,