For Autumn/Winter 2015 we have a brand new collection designed in collaboration with the iconic Dame Zandra Rhodes! Read on to find out more about the inspiration behind the pieces in this exclusive conversation between Zandra and our very own Safia Minney. 

Safia: What was it that drove you and your career into print, and then into fashion?

Zandra: In the 50’s, when I was first at college, I had an inspirational teacher, Barbara Brown, who was quite fabulous! Then I got into the Royal College of Art, and in my second year, I suddenly thought ‘why aren’t people wearing wonderful prints?’ There were no prints that were worth wearing and I was starting to think ‘oh, you could look like this, or you could look like that’, and never even saw that I would go into making clothes.

Safia: These were prints you wanted to wear yourself?

Zandra: I always design with the idea that I would wear it. You have got to look at the design and know you are behind the design you are selling and you would wear it proudly. One guy I was trying to sell my designs to said to me “You’re either going to make it really big or fall flat on your face.”

Safia: What do you put your success down to?

Zandra: Hard work, and I also think belief in the product. Because I believe in the product, I love print and I love colour. I would wear this People Tree collaboration with a colourful necklace. I look at our collaboration and I think I would wear that! If I look at it and would not wear it, then I am not answering the question at all.

Safia: This collection is all in 100% organic cotton. The Soil Association’s new report says organic cotton farming is really great for the farmers as they can grow enough food alongside the cotton to feed themselves. It’s really good for the nutrition of their family and for the household’s security to be paid fair prices. Is that why you are passionate about this collaboration, or is it because you want to save the environment from all pesticides?

Zandra: What made me excited first of all was when I saw your electric enthusiasm. Then, when we went around Gujarat and we actually met the farmers and saw what they were doing and how they were getting fair prices. And then when you feel the product – it’s fabulous! I’ve got one American lady that can’t wait to be wearing the latest t-shirt that we’ve done. It is very exciting!

Safia: This collaboration is based on some really beautiful re-works of your archive prints. Tell us about your inspiration behind each graphic.

Zandra: The dancing stars is one of my most ultimate favourites. Years ago, when I was still at the Royal College of Art, I’d seen David Hockney’s painting with the generals with their medals and I thought ‘medals’, that is what I will do my major project on. I went to both the War Museum and Apsley House, Wellington’s home in Hyde Park Corner and I drew all these medals with little stars, row upon row of them. And they make lovely lines, don’t you think? And all in different sizes, because they weren’t meant to look the same. And there is a little bow here and there. I started by drawing the rows by hand. At the time when I did them, I drew in pencil, but when I re-worked these for the design, I drew them with black fine pen on white paper. I made sure the rows were totally uneven so now they form a strike. They are dancing stars!

The pink is Lady Penelope’s car. Do you know the cartoon show that was on, the futuristic space show? It was on my first television I had in college. A nice little motor car driving around. I created the third design when I was at the Royal College of Art, when I saw the comics’ explosions coming out of people’s mouths like ‘Wow’ and ‘Umph’. Well, these are the different explosions, all going around and making a check. The dramatic explosions are very pop art. I love the size we have now done it in. It looks fabulous. Very wearable.

Three Pieces from the Zandra Rhodes x People Tree Collaboration AW15
Left to Right: Zandra Rhodes Check Tunic Dress (£48)Zandra Rhodes Dancing Stars Bodycon Dress (£55)Zandra Rhodes Cars Flared Dress (£85)

Safia: When you are putting together the collaboration with People Tree, are you thinking about the farmers we met in Gujarat in the West of India on the trip we did together, are those farmers’ faces in your mind?

Zandra: They definitely are because I’ve also got the pictures of them up. They were so splendid! Not only did I draw people in India, like the lady when she was sitting, but I painted pictures of things I saw, like the cotton growing. It was so exciting that I have actually kept those pictures and put them up. It is a nice inspiration to think of the producers growing all this. It is amazing, isn’t it, when you think this grows on big farms.

Safia: It is really incredible, and I think that when we are able to take that fibre from both villages and taking the seeds out, the spinning, the weaving, the printing – that all can now be done organically.

Zandra: I think in life, the whole point is we all live it in a certain form of ethics that keep ourselves going. We do things, we hope, with a reason. I think if you do things for what you hope personally is the right reason, it gives you another extra incentive to go on. You feel that not only are the designs fabulous to wear but I found it so inspiring to go around, meet the farmers and see what is actually happening.

Safia: You are very busy in the US. Then you are back in London, and then off to do things around the world; different collaborations. Isn’t it exhausting to manage that kind of schedule? Who else are you collaborating with at the moment and how do you find that little bit of peace and calm?

Zandra: I am not very good at finding peace and calm. I will be doing some designs for Mumbai airport soon and last year, I went to Kuala Lumpur because I had an exhibition of my work there. They were so pleased with how it all went that they sent me over some of their fabrics that they want me to design with. I am going back there representing the British government doing designs and I am going to see what happens. That will be fabulous!

Safia: Fair Trade has a very high profile here in Britain. Do you think that British designers like yourself also have an obligation to spread ethical and Fair Trade messages around the world?

Zandra: I think if we can do things ethically, it is a little bit better for our souls, and for the world in general.

Safia: As a British designer, how do you feel about pushing both great fashion and something that is really edgy and quirky, at the same time as good ethics?

Zandra: I am proud to be involved with what you are doing at People Tree. I think it is fabulous that we have managed to do great designs that have an edge on them, which are also ethically produced.

Safia: Where do you think people will be wearing these pieces?

Zandra: I think there are so many different places you can wear them to. Actually it has a very smart chic look about it. I think the pieces have got a lot of flexibility. This is a tiny bit more casual. But I am not very good at casual, I would wear lots of jewellery with it!

The collection is already available to shop on our website, so take your pick while stocks last!