Last Thursday, I attended the launch of a new book on Zandra Rhodes. Subtitled 'Textile Revolution: Medals Wiggles and Pop', it looks at the designer's early work and the influence of Pop Art on her work. The author, Samantha Erin Safer, is perfectly placed to write the book having started her own career interning at Rhodes' Fashion and Textile Museum and also for sharing her love of colour and pattern with the design. I also have to admit a bias as Sam is now my colleague at the V&A and I looked at an early draft of her text.
While Zandra Rhodes work is so closely associated with the '70s, it was fascinating to see how her style developed and her early influences. She was at the RCA in the 1960s and, if you cast your mind back you'll remember we've been here before - it's the turf of George Melly's 'incubators of total Pop', the students that were featured in the 1962 film Pop Goes the Easel, featuring my very first Last-Year Girl: Pauline Boty.
Sam explains how, understandably, this Pop sensibility filtered into her work - David Hockney, for example, influenced some of her work for her degree show which featured medal motifs. The book also shows some variants on designs from her sketchbooks, inspired by a Dior advert showing lipstick being applied. They're not too dissimilar to the pattern being used on a new book in the V&A Pattern series: Pop Patterns, which is coming out next year:
After the RCA, the book goes on to look at some of her early collaborations, such as her textile designs for Foale and Tuffin like this domino dress (shown at the Foale and Tuffin Fashion and Textile Museum exhibition), as well as commissions for Jacqmar, &Vice Versa and Sekers Pty Australia.
In 1966, Rhodes teamed by with Sylvia Ayton to open the Fulham Road Clothes shop and, amongst its fascinating contextual images, the book features some great pictures from their collections. This was also the time she created her textiles inspired by Paco Rabanne's plastic discs - as seen in a 'bikini' dress in the book, or in this dress photographed by Ronald Traeger and then used to promote the V&A's '60s fashion exhibition decade's later.
One of the inspiring things about the book is the huge range of sources Rhodes uses for her own inspiration: a TV documentary on Las Vegas, knitted textiles or the Museum of the American Indian which informed some of her early own clothing collections. The book is a riot of colour and pattern - from the acid green of the cover to the bright pink pull-out quotes and that's even before you get to the plates section in the second half of the book!
If you are a textile student, there's plenty that will send you running to your sketchbook and, for everyone else, it's a fascinating and colourful glimpse into a rich and fertile period of British design.
Zandra Rhodes Textiles Revolution: Medals, Wiggles and Pop is available from Amazon for £21.25