November 2010

Zandra Rhodes' Heirlooms
By Susan Muncey

World-famous fashion designer and well - known eccentric Zandra Rhodes, CBE, speaks to Susan Muncey about her ever-expanding set of extraordinary heirlooms and her plans to gift them to the public.

Zandra has spent a lifetime creating her own heirlooms: a legacy of fashion and textiles, and a London museum dedicated to the art. Dividing her time between homes and work in California and London, Zandra is so busy that she hasn't had time to organize specialist storage for the 60 chests of original designs that form the core of her collection at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Nor has she had a chance to catalogue records and photographs of designs and shows amassed over the 45 years of her career.

Having last made a will 25 years ago, Zandra also 'needs to find the time' to update this. "If I got run over by a bus tomorrow, things would not look good," she says, adding "I know I'd like to be cremated, but I haven't even thought about my funeral." With no children of her own, she may leave some dresses to her slightly younger sister, plus a few other friends and colleagues, but the bulk of her collection of around 3000 garments will be left to the museum, "to be treasured by the nation for posterity."

Fashion has only relatively recently been considered as an art form in its own right and of interest from an historical and investment perspective. Zandra's not entirely sure what her total collection is worth, but one of her first pieces from 1969, a felt coat, was recently purchased by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for $8000 (another of these is in the V&A). Her punk designs from the late 1970s also command high prices – a skirt and top were bought by the Philadelphia Museum of Art for around $4000.

If you're interested in collecting vintage clothing, Zandra's tips are to "be driven by what you like" and perhaps specialize – for instance some collectors of her designs only want dresses that drape to a point. You should also consider the temperature at which the garments are kept, which should be "not too hot, or too cold" to help prevent deterioration.

Zandra also collects other designers' work; she has a few pieces by Ossie Clark and Bill Gibb, and says she respects the work of Jean Muir and David Sassoon (of Bellville Sassoon) too. Zandra's passion for collecting also extends to modern ceramics by the likes of Carol McNicoll and Kate Malone, along with art by Andrew Logan and Duggie Fields.

Zandra literally never stops, and is working on all manner of commercial ventures, in addition to producing two new collections every year. She'd rather like to open a shop again, "so people know that I'm still designing... if my designs were seen on Lady Gaga they'd be noticed" she quips. With her fashion designer's ego, Zandra thrives on recognition and would like to see her brand perpetuated after she dies. She considers one of her greatest contributions to fashion to be the way her textile prints have influenced the shape of garments. Her renowned exhibition Zandra Rhodes, A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles opened at the Mingei Museum in San Diego on 3rd October.

Zandra doesn't have the time to be overly sentimental about her vintage pieces but, if for any reason she lost them, she'd be "utterly heartbroken." Ideally, she'd like to create a photographic record of her designs on the internet so, "in future, when people have to conserve energy and can't travel as much" they'll still be able to see her work. There's only one problem – finding the time to get it done… But, upon hearing her mantra: "Good better best, never let it rest, till your good is better and your better's best", one can only wonder what additional heirlooms her legacy may eventually include.

Susan Muncey is a trend forecaster and founder of To read her top tips for creating an heirloom legacy click here: