Originally published in
September 2006
Four o’clock and it’s buzzing backstage in the Zandra Rhodes area. Rhodes is inspecting accessories, pushing through rails of gaily hued clothes and politely giving orders. Women with clipboards are muttering into walkie-talkies and the PR people are in a team huddle.
"It’s insanely fabulous. She’s letting us know that fashion can still be fun." Karen Binns

Make-up artists are feverishly painting eyes in emerald green, electric blue and lilac. Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry for Mac UK, is putting the finishing touches to model Erin O’Connor. ‘Zandra likes the way colours don’t go together and has let me go to town,’ he says, happily. ‘This show is a celebration of make-up based on her own turquoise eyes and orange lips, but we’re clashing it in a way that’s still beautiful.’

An equally busy crew of hair stylists are pinning balloons to models’ heads and combing extensions over them to create beehive domes. Head of hair James Rowe appears calm under pressure. ‘Zandra showed me some sketches and I came up with how to execute the ideas. Now I’m just getting on with it,’ he smiles, before disappearing to chastise two assistants who are doing more chatting than plaiting.

At 5pm, the models do a walkthrough. ‘All the ideas are Zandra’s, I’m just here to push her in a direction she might not have thought about,’ says stylist Karen Binns. ‘You’re talking to someone who invented style so it’s not for this generation to tell her what to do. All we can do is make it now.’ What can we expect of the show? ‘It’s insanely fabulous. She’s letting us know that fashion can still be fun.’

As the official showtime of 5.30pm comes (and goes), milliner Steven Jones turns up to play with the bonnets and feather headdresses he’s designed for Rhodes. The models are given their catwalk direction: ‘Sexy, strong, powerful!’ VIPs head backstage to wish Zandra well. By 6.30pm, it’s finally time to hit the catwalk.

The British Fashion Council tent is packed as O’Connor strides out in a gingham gown and mirror mosaic jewellery. Rhodes’s signature kaftans become elegant canvases for geometric prints. The rainbow palette is dominated by canary yellow and electric pink on diaphanous tops, babydoll dresses, boxy jackets, balloon skirts and sexy swimsuits. Rhodes takes her bow to a huge ovation. ‘I’m really happy with how it went,’ she beams. ‘Before a show, I can never relax but I’m recovering now.’

It seems like just the right time for Rhodes, 66, an icon of British fashion in the 1970s who went on to design for Princess Diana, to be back. In the past 20 years she has avoided the catwalk shows but continued to design for leading stores and boutiques.

‘I think so much has been influenced by what I’ve done and so many people have copied me that, when Mac asked me to do a range of make-up for them and put on a show, I felt brave enough to say yes. I wanted the collection to look very me but there are still surprises like the composed, stiffer shapes and the new range of handbags. I was inspired by a trip to St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. The beehive hair is based on its turrets.’

Will this one-of-a-kind style guru show again? ‘I’m going to think about it,’ she says, mysteriously. And with that, Rhodes rushes off. After party, anyone?