This is why Zandra Rhodes thinks it’s important to support young designers

23rd May 19 | Beauty

Prudence Wade talks to one of fashion’s most iconic dames about what it was like starting out the industry, compared to today.

Zandra Rhodes Showroom – London Fashion Week 2015

With her fuchsia hair and enduring love of bright patterns, few British designers are as memorable as Dame Zandra Rhodes.

Now 78 years old, the textile designer is celebrating 50 years in the business this year. So, it’s as good a time as any for Rhodes to give back to the younger generation of the fashion world. And to do so, she’s become the newest lifetime patron for Graduate Fashion Week – the leading event which gives graduate designers a platform to showcase what they do. For many, it’s a welcome springboard to launch their careers.

Rhodes adjusts one of her designs in 1997
Rhodes adjusts one of her designs in 1997 (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Rhodes was keen to get involved, saying: “I think that’s a very important thing – with today as it is, Graduate Fashion Week at least gives students a chance to have a public showing of the work they do.”

Before the event kicks off on Sunday, June 2, the iconic designer shares her thoughts on fashion today, and how it’s different to when she was starting out.

Why it’s hard for young designers…

Rhodes holding her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire medal
Rhodes holding her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire medal (Nick Ansell/PA)

Rhodes can’t believe how tough it is for up-and-coming designers in the notoriously cut-throat fashion industry. “Well, for a start there’s a lot more of them,” she says, reflecting on how things are different to when she was beginning her career. “Sometimes I worry and wonder where they’re all going to find jobs.”

With this protective instinct taking over, you can see why Rhodes is an obvious choice for a patron of Graduate Fashion Week. Even though the climate is hard, Rhodes has a lot of respect for the younger generation. “They have to have lots of perseverance and pointy elbows to really keep pushing themselves forward,” she says, adding, “it’s very difficult to know if one would succeed in the same way.”

Why she thinks she succeeded…

Rhodes back in 1985 (PA)

Even though Graduate Fashion Week didn’t exist when Rhodes was younger, she had one particular boost to her career; her mother. “She was supportive with whatever I did,” Rhodes says, and you really can’t underestimate unfaltering encouragement when trying to navigate such a tough industry.

It helped that Rhodes’ mother knew a thing or two about fashion. “She was a very creative and artistic person in her own right, she was quite extraordinary,” Rhodes says wistfully, thinking back on her mother who passed away before her career really took off. “She had worked in Paris as a fitter for [prestigious couturier] the House of Worth before she got married, and then came back to London because of the war. The more I look back at her, the more extraordinary I think she was.”

Rhodes’ mother helped set her on a path which has seen her dress everyone from Princess Diana, Elizabeth Taylor and Freddie Mercury, to Kylie Minogue and Helen Mirren, as well as gaining that damehood.

Her advice for the younger generation…

Rhodes with the Queen in 2000
Rhodes with the Queen in 2000 (Fiona Hanson/PA)

At 78 years old, Rhodes doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, and it’s this work ethic which she thinks is the key to success. “Never give up and remain focused,” she advises younger designers. “It might mean you can’t go to nightclubs and live it up, but if you want to be a famous fashion designer, you’ve got to take the price that goes with it of not having any spare time, or coming back after dinner and having to finish a job.”

However, this advice isn’t just for students of fashion and can apply to everyone, she notes, adding how important it is to “always surround yourself with people who are encouraging”.

Rhodes seems genuinely excited to see what the younger generation will produce. “As an original textile designer, I always like seeing the textile side of British fashion,” she says. “I love the fact there’s so much pattern around – it’s great.”

Dame Zandra Rhodes is the new Lifetime Patron for Graduate Fashion Week, with the event taking place from June 2-5, 2019 at the Old Truman Brewery in London.

© Press Association 2019