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Early life and education
Rhodes was born in Chatham, Kent, and was introduced to the world of fashion by her mother, who was a fitter in a Paris fashion house and a teacher at Medway College of Art, now the University for the Creative Arts. Rhodes studied first at Medway and then at the Royal College of Art in London. Her major area of study was printed textile design.
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Rhodes' early textile fashion designs were considered outrageous by the traditional British manufacturers.
Between 1966-69, Rhodes and a fellow student, Sylvia Ayton, opened a boutique together called the Fulham Road Clothes Shop. Ayton designed the clothing and Rhodes supplied the textile designs from which they were made. She produced her first collection showing loose, romantic garments.
In 1969, Rhodes and Ayton went their separate ways, with Rhodes establishing her own retail outlet in the fashionable Fulham Road in West London. Rhodes' own lifestyle has proved to be as dramatic, glamorous and extrovert as her designs. With her bright green hair (later changed to a pink and sometimes red or other colours), theatrical makeup and art jewellery, she stamped her identity on the international world of fashion.
Rhodes was one of the new wave of British designers who put London at the forefront of the international fashion scene in the 1970s. Her designs are considered clear, creative statements, dramatic but graceful, bold but feminine. Rhodes' inspiration has been from organic material and nature. Her unconventional and colourful prints were often inspired by travel; chevron stripes from the Ukraine and the symbols of the North American Indian, Japanese flowers, calligraphy and shells. Her approach to the construction of garments can be seen in her use of reversed exposed seams and in her use of jewelled safety pins and tears during the punk era.
She made her biggest splash in 1977 with the establishment take on punk which she called Conceptual Chic. She used kilts and safety pins – pre Versace – to form a sort of embroidery, mixed with loosely drawn figures screen-printed on silk jersey, or on the newly developed Ultrasuede fabric.
Rhodes designed for Diana, Princess of Wales, and continues to design for royalty and celebrities. She notably designed several of famous costumes for Freddie Mercury and Brian May of Queen. She has a strong following in the US, UK, and Australia. In 1995 she established a studio in California to develop an interior design business.
The San Diego Opera commissioned her to design the costumes for her first opera, The Magic Flute, in 2001. Rhodes continued her association with the San Diego Opera in 2004 when she designed the set and costumes for Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles. She designed for Verdi's Aida at the Houston Grand Opera and English National Opera.
Rhodes is the founder of the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, which was opened in May 2003 by Princess Michael of Kent. On 22 September 2006, she appeared as herself on the long-running BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers. Rhodes also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2007  She appeared, as herself, in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous during the BBC show's second season. Rhodes was a Guest Judge for the first episode of the third season of Project Catwalk.
In November 2009, Rhodes was appointed Chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts, one of the UK's newest universities, and only the second to focus specifically on art and design. An official installation ceremony took place in June 2010, accompanied by a fashion show highlighting the best designs from the BA (Hons) Fashion Design and BA (Hons) Fashion Innovation Management courses at the Rochester campus in Medway, Kent – where Rhodes studied, under its former title of the Medway College of Art and BA (Hons) Fashion at Epsom in Surrey.
Marks and Spencers introduced the upmarket Zandra Rhodes collection, modelled and made by Rhodes, into the bigger stores by late 2009. She has her own collection of jewellery. The Zandra Rhodes jewellery includes five separate collections, which are Oriental Whisper collection, Punk Chic Collection, Lovely Lilies collection, Signature collection and Manhattan Lady Collection.
A more recent jewellery collection created in collaboration with Adele Marie London, called Zandra Rhodes for Adele Marie, launched in August 2011. This collection features iconic pieces of Rhodes' early textiles work remade as jewellery. Rhodes launched a handbag range made under license by Bluprint in 2010 and has also collaborated to produce a bed linen range and a new improved outdoor clothing range.
On 26 March 2013, Rhodes launched a Digital Study Collection of 500 of her iconic garments from her private archive, as well as drawings and behind-the-scenes interviews and tutorials in her studio. The Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection was developed through a project led by the University for the Creative Arts and funded by Jisc.
Rhodes was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1997 and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to British fashion and textiles, having been invested at Buckingham Palace by Princess Anne.
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- The Art of Zandra Rhodes
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|Chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts