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"It’s sucking the life blood out of me," says Rhodes of her latest project, the Fashion & Textile Museum slated to open here in May.
"I should be spending my time doing things like traveling to Paris, chatting with Karl," she says, the tiny seashells in her hair tinkling as she talks in the sunny top floor of her south London headquarters, with its rainbow-striped floor and caftan-clad mannequins. "Instead, I’m trying to get this project off the ground."
Rhodes has only herself to blame for this project, which started after some existential ponderings. "I realized that so many famous British designers — like Ossie Clark and Jean Muir — were dying on us, and that there should be some permanent record of British fashion. Fashion is something the whole world is interested in," says the designer, now 63.
Seven years and $4 million later, Rhodes is preparing to open the museum, a 5,000-square-foot space attached to her headquarters and workshop that will accomodate exhibitions, educational programs and the odd cocktail party.
"I want it to be a place where fashion doesn’t feel so precious or rarefied," says Rhodes, "where people can understand the contribution that fashion makes to the culture and character of society."
For the first exhibition, "My Favourite Dress," Rhodes asked 70 fashion designers, including Valentino, Giorgio Armani, John Galliano, Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan and Thierry Mugler, to choose a favorite dress from any of their own collections, and describe the reasons behind the choice. Rhodes herself chose a 1974 dress in Pernod green. "It was a dress that I know for a fact Jackie Kennedy shared with her sister," says Rhodes with a giggle.
Although 3,000 original Rhodes garments along with her sketch books and silk screens are now part of the museum’s permanent collection, the designer took a communal approach to the first show, "because I didn’t want the museum to be thought of as an homage to Zandra Rhodes," she says. In addition to the Rhodes archive, the museum boasts 10 Clark and 30 Muir garments. Gity Monsef, the museum’s creative director, is planning a Rhodes retrospective "at some point," and hopes to do a Halston exhibition.