Work Experience With Dame Zandra Rhodes


A Week With an Iconic Fashion Designer in London

Zandra Rhodes Experience

Over February half term, I spent a week in London working and living with, celebrated and renowned fashion designer, Zandra Rhodes.

The opportunity came about through Art Couture Painswick (ACP) after they awarded me first place for a work placement opportunity in their July festival 2016. I am extremely grateful for ACP for this highly valuable work placement, it has opened up so many doors and given me so many new, supportive contacts in the art world which will undoubtedly provide useful in my pursuit in the arts.

I arrived in London on Sunday and the taxi took my mother and I to Bermondsey Street, which is a lovely old fashioned street in central London with Deli’s, French clothes shops and a strong artistic vibe. I certainly noticed the contrast from quiet Painswick to a vibrant, cosmopolitan district full of multi-lingual residents and visitors.  In front of us was a large pink and orange building which proudly stood out against the old buildings and pubs. Also known as the ‘Fashion and Textile Museum’ which is Zandra’s museum with both her own collections and other textiles artists like Joseph Frank.

On entrance I was instantly dazzled by the sparkly, magical flooring which Zandra got an Australian Artist to design for her, directly in front of the entrance stood a massive ‘Z’. I entered her apartment to find the walls in every colour of the rainbow and Indian gods & goddesses decorating the walls, amongst these were crystals, plants and special gifts and art work which she had either created or were given to her by close friends. I was blown away by the array of colours, materials, textures and objects which filled every corner.

Downstairs was Zandra’s studio, a designing studio, sewing room and printing room, as well as an office, toilets and a kitchen. It was refreshing to see that her studio was still so traditional with drawings and screen printing still being done by hand.

My first day of work experience:

Zandra arrived on Monday morning and I helped her into her flat with her suitcases, she had just flown into London from America and I was instantly surprised by how down to earth she was. I helped to put away some of her clothes which had been used in a fashion show in America and I found it inspiring to see her work up close.

As the work experience went on the work got more and more interesting; Zandra built up trust in me and I was presented with fantastic opportunities, for example I learnt how do colour ways using the screen printer for a private order of Zandra’s iconic ‘Manhattan print’ in lime green. One of the most challenge tasks was designing Chinese inspired floral patterns for a collection Zandra was making for a opera. My first few days were incredible and I felt like a sponge soaking up all the knowledge and experience Zandra radiated. I was inspired by Zandra’s work ethic and dedication to art, most of all Zandra taught me the importance of believing in yourself, especially believing that you can be an artist and make a living. Her attitude was infectious and rekindled my own passion and enthusiasm to creativity.

Other tasks I completed over the weeks were: drawing out Zandra’s archive collection for her ‘fashion bible’, coming up with designs using her prints for merchandise such as, mugs and hand painting onto her ‘lipstick playsuit’ to be wore in fashion week. I am particularly grateful that I was so heavily involved, making this work placement highly valuable.

The most valuable part of the work experience was just being able to absorb myself in art and textiles over the whole week, spending time with Zandra and her team who were all highly qualified artists and fashion designers. I have learnt about the whole fashion process from designing to the end product and this will definitely help me in my coursework. This work experience is not only going to be useful for my textile A level course work but has also opened up many new doors in the future. Zandra and I have established a rapport and I have been invited back again, I feel grateful for this opportunity from ACP to develop my networks and surrounding myself with success artists like Zandra is helping me to dream a little bigger and witness first hand that a career in the arts is possible and can be hugely rewarding!

Now back in the calming Cotswolds I look back at my week and reflect that it was a lot of hard work with long hours and constant stimulation as everything was so new, the whole week felt so surreal from sitting next to Zandra and drawing in the day to cooking for Zandra in the evenings and eating Zandra’s very own ‘stewed apple and ice cream’. The highlight of my week must be the last evening when Zandra treated me to a night out with her in London to see the David Hockney exhibition in Tate Britain, there could have been no better companion to marvel at the colourful world of Hockney. I feel hopeful and inspired to go back to school and start painting and creating after a rich and meaningful work experience.

Thank you to Zandra Rhodes and her team and of course Art Couture Painswick.