Zandra Rhodes has the building, a bright pink and orange block that has raised eyebrows in the up-and-coming South Bank district in London. Now she needs the money to fill it.
Rhodes is singlehandedly creating the first museum in London dedicated to fashion and textiles, an institute intended to celebrate British and international style and serve as an educational resource.
With funds from the sale of her own London home and private backing, Rhodes bought a warehouse and hired Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta to give it a colorful makeover. “It’s bright orange and pink, and everyone says it looks so Zandra Rhodes. But if you were Mexican, you’d say it looks so Ricardo Legoretta,” Rhodes said. “So I get a lot of backhanded credit.”
But she still needs about $4 million to finish the interior of the Fashion and Textile Museum and to hire staff. So, less than a month after a tea dance at Larry Hagman’s home in Ojai, Calif., that raised $50,000 for the cause, Rhodes was on a plane to meet with clients and friends in Dallas.
On Oct. 24, the designer threw a pumpkin-themed cocktail party in a suite at the Hotel Crescent Court, which is partly owned by Rhodes’s friend Caroline Rose Hunt. About 75 people crammed into the suite to greet the designer, where they were serenaded by a harpist and watched models stroll among them in Rhodes’s fantastically colorful designs.
Some guests were members of the American Friends of the Fashion and Textile Institute, a nonprofit group working to support the museum.
“I’m helping her as a friend to fund-raise,” said Carolyn Farb, who flew in from Houston for the party. “I think it is a great idea to have the American Friends of the Zandra Rhodes Museum. It’s realizing her dream.”
Farb eyed the two oversized red and orange lilies that topped Rhodes’s signature hot pink tresses.
“I’m crazy for those flowers,” Farb said. “I came all the way from Houston to get them and, she doesn’t have anymore.”
The cocktail party was a forerunner for a possible fund-raiser here in the spring, noted Mary Ann Smith, a longtime friend of Rhodes. Meanwhile, 40 American supporters of the museum were invited to tea at 10 Downing Street on Halloween by Cherie Blair.
Rhodes is aiming for the museum to open in mid-2002. Its collection already includes more than 3,000 of her own designs and textiles spanning her entire career, as well as fashions by Ossie Clark, Bill Gibbs and Jean Muir.
“I think it’s rather frightening that in Britain we produce all this outstanding design and then it gets forgotten,” Rhodes said in an interview the day after the cocktail party. “It has to go abroad to find a way to be publicized and used. In other countries, people work their way to the top and then become the grand dames of what they are known for. But in the U.K., they work their way up and then they have to find a way out of the country.”
The museum won’t be limited to British design. In fact, Rhodes plans to appeal for sartorial donations to such friends as Karl Lagerfeld and Issey Miyake.
It’s a good thing Rhodes is high-energy — she’s been known to walk off an intercontinental flight and head straight for an appearance in a store — because she’s devoting three-quarters of her time to the museum while also maintaining her fashion business. But Rhodes, who was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1997, is a bit frustrated at the lack of support she’s gotten from high places in Britain.
“I thought I’d be able to raise the grant money more easily,” she reflected. “I’m still campaigning for money from the British government.”
Rhodes defrayed some costs by building eight duplexes and four bedsits on top of the museum with financial support from her partner, Salah Hassanein.
Fund-raising is going very well in the U.S., said Rhodes, who is a part-time resident of California. She spends about two weeks of every month at the beach home in Del Mar that she shares with Hassanein. Rhodes also has a residence at the museum in London and last June moved her company to an outbuilding attached to the institute.
The move has enabled her to resume printing her own artwork on textiles, which she stopped temporarily during construction of the museum. During that time, her small studio produced hand-painted designs.
Rhodes’s colorful, often multilayered dresses are not currently sold by any U.S. retailers, but are shown by appointment by Susan Woodruff, a personal shopper who’s based in Dallas.
“It’s been working out quite well because my production hasn’t been huge,” the designer said. “I think it’s better to keep them individual. I hope people will look at my things and think, “‘That could only be a Zandra Rhodes.”‘
Rhodes’s fur line, licensed to Polo Georges Furs, is sold in the 24 Neiman Marcus stores that have fur salons.
They do well, according to Terry Thornton, Neiman’s associate divisional merchandise manager of coats and furs. Neiman’s sold 12 of her furs at a one-day trunk show in October at its store in San Diego, Calif., he noted.
Styles include handpainted hides, persian lamb and minks. Some have silk linings handpainted in Rhodes’s signature hot pink and aqua.
“It’s the details that make it Zandra,” Thornton said. “Some are classic, but they all have a fun touch. She does a ranch mink with a little train that we have continued to sell for two years.”
Rhodes also is preparing a jewelry collection of semiprecious stones, silver and gold under license to Pranda of London and Thailand. She expects to introduce it next summer.
With Rhodes’s hot-pink hair and flamboyant clothing, it’s hard to imagine her suffering a case of mistaken identity. But it happens regularly when she’s waiting for flights in New York airports.
“People come up to me and say, ‘Betsy, I loved your last show!”‘ she laughed. “It’s rather nice. I don’t say, ‘Sorry, I’m not,’ because then they look embarrassed. I might as well reap all the PR benefit.”