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New Arrival: Collection of Dame Zandra Rhodes, Legendary Fashion Designer

by Natalie Hayton on 2023-05-26T09:25:00+01:00 | 0 Comments


In Special Collections we have all been excited since February when Dame Zandra Rhodes, legendary fashion icon and designer, confirmed that she would be donating her archival collection to DMU. She announced the decision at a graduation ceremony, in which she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts. 

DMU News article: Legendary designer Zandra Rhodes to donate decades of archive material to DMU 15, Feb 2023.


Fashion Icon and Legend

Rhodes burst onto London’s fashion scene in the late 1960s, with designs which were considered so outrageous she found it hard, initially, to find work. After establishing her own studio in Paddington, West London, she released her first solo collection, which drew attention from both American and British markets. At the centre of the subsequent punk movement, she made frequent use of fashion techniques and designs, now iconic, but which at the time were edgy, avant-garde and pioneering, such as holes and safety pins.  With her reputation established, she went on to create designs for former Princess of Wales, Diana, along with many rock icons like Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan. 


Freddie Mercury wearing design by Zandra Rhodes, c 1970s.                           Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing design by Zandra Rhodes c 1980s.


Rhodes says the decision to donate came when she reflected, 'I am towards the end of my career and I suddenly realised I had all these records'. Impressed with the work of DMU in terms of facilities, sustainability and the effort put into preserving the work of working artists and designers for future generations, she says she is keen to 'build a future connection [with DMU] where we will together help inspire the minds of tomorrow'.


Visiting Rhodes' Studio 

With the donation officially confirmed and over five decades of work to transport to DMU Special Collections, on the 11th May 2023, Special Collections Manager, Katharine Short, went down to liaise with Rhodes and her team in London for a planning session. While there she had an exciting tour of the designer's studio to assess the type and quantity of materials.

A lion's greeting among the peonies awaited. A set piece designed by Rhodes for a production of the The Magic Flute in  2001. Sadly, I don't think he's joining us. As was hoped and expected, Rhodes' studio is a treasure trove of fashion history, charting her legendary career with many wonderful stage and set pieces:


Above: Rhodes' studio with columns that featured in the original stage production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1973.

Rails, boxes, tubs and tubes all full of clothing, accessories and printed fabric designs fill the store rooms.


On the left, a clothing rail full of Rhodes' signature pieces, including bright prints and dresses. On the right, a selection of luggage with Zandra Rhodes jacquard weave fabric.

Above: Printed cardboard garment patterns.

As well as considering the best way of transporting the collection, assessment visits enable us to determine what sort of storage spaces and packaging material we are going to need once the collection arrives. All fabrics and clothing will need preservation grade tissue paper and acid-free boxes to keep them safe in the long-term. And special provisions are needed to transfer and care for over-size items that can not be folded or stored in regular boxes.

As the tour continued, it was clear that several collections and deliveries would be needed. Accompanying the physical items, there are also documents and audio visual records charting Rhodes' career and designs, such as papers relating to fashion shows, photographs, interviews, events, talks etc. providing a rich seam of fashion history.


On the left, boxes of kodatraces (separation positives) used for developing silk screens and, on the right, tubs with labels giving a glimpse of their contents, such as 'photographs' and 'keynotes'.  

Folders relating to Rhodes' schedule, designs and projects which we can't wait to see, including 'Early Drawings and Make Up', 'Batiks' and papers relating to operas, 'Turandot' and 'Aida'.  

Above: Rhodes with materials packaged ready for transport.                                 


While there are wonderful online collections of Rhodes' work, such as the Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection hosted by VADS, (a service of the Library at the University for the Creative Arts in the UK that provides digital images), which showcases her fashion designs, her donation to DMU is the first time any of the physical materials will be officially placed with an archive and made accessible to visitors, giving all the opportunity to discover, enjoy, learn, and be inspired by her groundbreaking work first hand, in our reader room!!


Above: Images from VADS of some of Rhodes designs. From Left, Conceptual Chic, The Shell Collection and  'Striped Whirlwind'.


First Collection 24th May 2023

On a beautiful sunny day, Assistant Archivist, David and Library and Learning Spaces Manager, Richard, set off for London to collect the first delivery of materials. Zandra was there to meet them when they arrived with great news that some additional garments were also packed and ready to go.

With the van fully loaded, David and Richard are all set for the journey back to Leicester.


Above: Boxes and tubs packed in the van and Richard (left) and David (right) happy that the first leg of the collecting mission is accomplished.

Back at the Archive...

After a long journey and a few hours unpacking the collection, it was safely stored in the Kimberlin Library and Special Collections reader room ready for unpacking the next day.


As staff began to work on the collection, it was amazing to see such a range of materials and how significant a resource they will be for research and teaching and learning, especially in terms of fashion history, material cultures and art and design. As well as the papers there are so many artefacts: an absolute delight for the senses!

Print books full of Rhodes' beautiful designs including this one for Fortnum and Masons Easter egg packaging, 2011.


Zandra Rhodes clothing and accessories, including a jumpsuit and handbags for Marks & Spencers.

Zandra Rhodes Button Flower Fragrance gift set, launched 2010.


Zandra Rhodes jewellery pieces (date tbc when we start cataloguing).

Special Collections is profoundly honoured and delighted to be the custodians of the Zandra Rhodes archival collection and we can't wait to get started on cataloguing, repackaging and sharing this amazing, awe-inspiring resource with staff, students and the wider community. Watch this space for updates!!


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