Zandra Rhodes – Unseen (and seen in Vogue and Harpers and Queen)

Inspired by visiting various fashion exhibitions recently – Debby Wale, one of our Triborough Reference Librarians has once again been delving into our Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library.

Zandra Rhodes - Unseen programme from the Fashion and Textile Museum
Zandra Rhodes – Unseen programme from the Fashion and Textile Museum

Working at Chelsea Library, with unlimited access to the Costume Collection, my interest in fashion has been revitalised. With the final days of my National Art Pass discount to be used, I went along to the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street, SE1. If you’ve not been – here’s a great description of the museum taken from their website:

The Fashion and Textile Museum is a cutting edge centre for contemporary fashion, textiles and jewellery in London. Founded by iconic British designer Zandra Rhodes, the centre showcases a programme of changing exhibitions exploring elements of fashion, textile and jewellery as well as the Academy which runs courses for creative students and businesses.

Their current exhibition is ‘Zandra Rhodes: Unseen’ and it runs until 31 August 2013. I had already been to the ‘Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s’ at the V&A. Zandra Rhodes’ career has spanned the decades from the 70’s and 80’s including designing a dress for Princess Diana – which can be seen at the current ‘Fashion Rules’ exhibition at Kensington Palace which I’ve also been to.

Princess Diana and Zandra Rhodes (taken from 'Dressing Diana by Tim Graham and Tamsin Blanchard)
Princess Diana and Zandra Rhodes (taken from ‘Dressing Diana by Tim Graham and Tamsin Blanchard)

Princess Diana wearing the dress designed by Zandra Rhodes
Princess Diana wearing the dress designed by Zandra Rhodes

This pink chiffon and pearl dress with a zig zag hem was worn in Japan and was sold at a sale of Princess Diana’s garments at Chrisities.

Years earlier I attended a talk at the Commonwealth Institute given by Zandra Rhodes and I was interested to find out more. Back at Chelsea Reference Library I trawled through the back issues of Vogue and Harpers. I even put together a display in Chelsea Gallery (part of Chelsea Reference Library) of the materials I found to write this post.

There’s some great information about Zandra Rhodes on Voguepedia:

When she realized her prints were too bold and boisterous for other designers, Rhodes began crafting clothing, as well. Still, she never lost sight of the methodical approach that she learned in textiles. For early collections, she visited the Victoria and Albert Museum and studied ethnic costume in the field. With a scholarly eye, she filled her sketchbook with drawings of Maasai warriors in Kenya, cacti from the Mojave Desert, Australian rock formations, and even celestial bodies that she discovered at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. For her book The Art of Zandra Rhodes, she wanted her garments displayed flat, like mounted butterflies, rather than worn by models. That way, their extraordinary patterns were revealed.

Zandra, Queen of the Desert

Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Be inspired by the art of seventies icon Zandra Rhodes. The pink lady’s fantasy fashion delivered a fix of culture clash glamour that lives on and on: graphic textiles, bold prints and swathes of diaphanous chiffon.
Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Harpers and Queen, March 2002

This silk devore dress was from the same shoot – worn with a Philip Treacy Couture hat and leather, feather, sand shells and beaded necklaces by Erickson Bearmon.

How to do….Zandra Rhodes

Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Harpers and Queen, March 2002

The same issue of Harpers and Queen has a very handy guide on how to dress in the Zandra Rhodes style or as Harpers and Queen describe it:

The original – and still the best for jet-set chiffon and inspirational prints.
Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Harpers and Queen, March 2002

This silk chiffon dress is by Salvatore Ferragamo and it’s worn with lace leggings by Zandra Rhodes – you don’t have to dress head to toe to get the Zandra Rhodes look.

Attention! Diversion! Zigzag Rhodes! 

Over to Vogue now…..

Vogue, September 1976 (photo by Norman Parkinson)
Vogue, September 1976 (photo by Norman Parkinson)

These pictures were taken from the article about Zandra Rhodes’ home:

Powerful patterns and coloured cover Zandra Rhodes house and her person, all is idiosyncratic, instantly recognisable decoration…The house, salmon pink outside, has mottled marbled sea-pinks and blues inside, a Martin Sharp mural up the stairwell meeting painted columns, urns, banked plastic flowers on the landing, with scarlet pleated bath alcove and Zandra in the tub.
Vogue, September 1976 (photo by Norman Parkinson)
Vogue, September 1976 (photo by Norman Parkinson)

Vogue’s own motor show

Here’s Jerry Hall in a Zandra Rhodes satin sarong – with a Rover to match!

Vogue, October 1976
Vogue, October 1976
Frilled sarong of pleated satin in whipped cream print, tendrils of rouleaux and gilded cords keeping body and soul together.

West Coast style

Vogue, March 1976
Vogue, March 1976

With more time, I’m sure I would find a lot more – I feel as if I am just scratching the surface. I really enjoyed researching this subject – so if you feel inspired come and take a look at our Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library.

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

Further information

  • ‘The Art of Zandra Rhodes’ by Anne Knight is available to view in the Costume Collection – it documents her designs inspired by Africa, China and India
  • Vogue and Harpers and Queens – back copies of these magazines can be viewed in the Costume Collection too
  • Berg Fashion Library has more information about Zandra Rhodes – you’ll need a Kensington and Chelsea library card to access this amazing online fashion resource
  • Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection Project – a blog I can certainly recommend
  • More information about the National Art pass is available on the ArtFund website

Nylon – the manmade fashion revolution

Nylon by Susannah Handley
Nylon by Susannah Handley

One of our Triborough Reference Librarians, Debby Wale, has been looking through our Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library for references to Nylon.

Susannah Handley’s book charts the history of Nylon.

Nylon made from castor oil
Nylon made from castor oil

In 1931 Wilmington’s Evening Journal broke the news that a silk like fabric could be made by combining antifreeze and castor oil.

Now for the technical stuff – I promise, there will be some fab pics from Vogue as usual!

What is Nylon?

This quote was taken from the Encyclopædia Britannica (Britannica Online Library Edition, 22  May  2013 – this can be accessed with Kensington and Chelsea library membership)

In October 1938, DuPont announced the invention of the first wholly synthetic fibre ever produced. Given the trade name Nylon (which has now become a generic term), the material was actually polyhexamethylene adipamide, also known as nylon 6,6 for the presence of six carbon atoms in each of its two monomers. Commercial production of the new fibre began in 1939 at DuPont’s plant in Seaford, Del., U.S., which in 1995 was designated a historic landmark by the American Chemical Society. Soon after the DuPont fibre was marketed, nylon 6 (polycaprolactam) was produced in Europe based on the polymerization of caprolactam. Nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 have almost the same structure and similar properties and are still the most important polyamide fibres worldwide.

 Nylon arrived on the scene just in time to replace silk (a natural polyamide), whose East Asian supply sources had been cut off by imperial Japan. Women’s stockings made of the new fibre were exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco and at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. The next year they went on sale throughout the United States, touching off a nylon mania that survived diversion of the fibre to military use during World War II and continued after the war with such intensity that nylon virtually established the synthetic-fibre industry.

Right, that’s the serious bit over. Those eyes that have glazed over can wake up now.

On to the nice pictures in Vogue!

These advertisements appeared in Vogue throughout 1958.

Ballito stockings October 1958
Ballito stockings October 1958

Stockings were an obvious candidate for nylon to replace silk – when they first appeared they were referred to as ‘Nylons’.

Bronze nylons by Bear Brand
Bronze nylons by Bear Brand

Astraka fake fur would please the anti-fur movement today, although I’m not entirely sure that poodle is impressed.

Astraka fake fur
Astraka fake fur

Chiffon was originally made from cotton – here is a selection of California Nylon Chiffon ads from Vogue, 1958

California nylon chiffon
California nylon chiffon

Above – You can see the puffball skirt is not an entirely modern invention.

The lady in the conventional yellow chiffon dress on the right is probably saying “I hope she doesn’t have to sit down in that!’

California nylon chiffon
California nylon chiffon
California nylon chiffon
California nylon chiffon

Above – are they amazed by her stylish appearance – or are they looking for the join in her hairpiece?

Nylon is extremely flammable, unless flame resistant treated. Below is an advertisement  from Vogue in 1958 for a ‘flare free’ Heathcoat nylon dress.

Similar items of clothing are still manufactured today as you can see on the Heathcoat Fabrics website.

Flame free nylon mid Sept 1958
Flame free nylon mid Sept 1958

Nylon fabrics were easy to care for. As indicated in the advertisements below with women enjoying everyday activities wearing smart clothes. Smoking, drinking coffee, and possibly standing too close to the fire.

Courtelle advert in Vogue
Courtelle advert in Vogue
Orlon lady drinking coffee
Orlon lady drinking coffee
Courtelle lady smoking
Courtelle lady smoking

I remember being on the train in the days when people were allowed to smoke in carriages. I watched a fashionably dressed lady’s mini skirt start to melt when her cigarette strayed too close to her clothing. Luckily, I alerted her before her mini skirt became much shorter than she intended.

Shop for the shade… Nylon was available in bright, non-fade colours.

Shop for the Shade
Shop for the Shade
Every last thing a sweater can give. The knot and style of Wolsey, the wash and wear of Ban-lon – in specially processed nylon. Downy soft, feather light, with a dreamy eye for colour.
Wolsey Ban-lon
Wolsey Ban-lon

To bring us up to the present day, a 21st  Century take on nylon, visit  the Berg Fashion Library to see this article in full – you will need your Kensington and Chelsea  library membership to access this.

Electric Textiles »by Bradley Quinn

Techno Fashion

Kanebo (Japanese manufacturer of textiles and cosmetics) are also developing ‘Biosafe’, a nylon filament yarn embedded with microscopic ceramic spheres (chemically bound to the fibres) that release a constant stream of silver ions, which has a powerful antibacterial effect.

The fabric is ideal for sportswear, high-performance gear, underwear and hospital gowns. Since the antimicrobial deodorant in Biosafe is kneaded into the fibre itself, its properties are highly durable and withstand repeated washing. Tests have shown the fabric will destroy some harmful bacteria and inhibit the growth of others, making the fabric ideal for hospitals or clinical environments.

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Library