What’s in a name? Zandra Rhodes’ mum wanted to call her Xandra, after Alexander the Great. But there was the problem of pronunciation, so she became Zandra, fittingly meaning “defender of humanity.” In a sense, that’s what Rhodes does, ushering bliss, technicolor and timelessness in a decades long career that is still strutting.
Literally strutting in one of our fun favorites, Fluevog, the eponymous brand name that summons fantasy footwear minus the blisters and fallen arches. Textile maven Zandra Rhodes and shoe designer John Fluevog admit to “circling each other for years,” so what a great time to break free from a wardrobe of sneakers and scuffs and take a peek at their joint capsule collection.
“I was in New York City 35 years ago with a dear client who took me to a wonderful store where I bought the most fabulous pair of parrot green shoes,” recalls Zandra. “A few years afterwards, there was a break-in at my place, and what did they take? Those fabulous green shoes!” Sometimes it takes a while to get together, but as I said, these two are timeless.
And so, it seemed, was the Covid lockdown. But while the rest of us were bingeing on Netflix, Zandra and Stephen got together over Zoom to collaborate, where she remembers “we totally worked together, figuring out which of the designs worked on his shoes. No, ‘I want this or I want that.’”
“We didn’t have to formally agree,” John says, “we just knew it had to be hassle free. We’ve both been in business for over 40 years, and our aesthetics just meshed.” The resulting Munster Maxes, Minis and 7th Heaven designs pulsate with Zandra’s Wiggle Flowers, Stripy Wiggles and Swirly Wiggle Flowers, all with design in mind, but absolutely wearable. “I wore the boots for the first time yesterday, and had them on all day!” As John underscores, “We do things we like, we don’t have to answer to shareholders. Can I walk around in them, would I wear them?”
Rhodes graduated from England’s Royal College of Art with a degree in home furnishing textile design, and her first foray into fashion was a challenge. While precious Liberty of London floral prints ruled as the style of the day, she referenced travel books, Warhol. Liechtenstein and Pucci, exposing seams and embellishing with safety pins before anyone else. Such love of prints resulted in the Fashion and Textile Museum that she established in 2003, the ground floor of her enchanting studio near the tower of London. Like an ornate Baroque design space, it’s been Zandra-ized (including the kitchen), as John describes it, filled with pottery and “all the bits I like best,” she smiles. Of course, the entry is a rainbow floor that starts with pink and ends in violet.
I ask if she has ever designed anything in black, and she laughs. “Well, the Daily Mail challenged me to wear black for a week.” But why would we want her to?
Her clients didn’t! I asked for a favorite celebrity memory, so naturally that would be a fellow Brit. “Freddie was a young boy when I met him, Brian (May) and the rest of Queen came into my rickety Bayswater studio. I told them to come late into the evening when my seamstresses were at home, as I didn’t have a dressing room! They looked through the racks of clothes and Freddie loved a wedding dress which was hanging up. He put the chosen outfits on and pranced around, seeing how the clothes would move on stage. He had great energy and charisma, but was rather shy. I guess all of his pizazz was saved for his concerts!”
“I love the joy in our Zandra Rhodes collection. There’s an abandonment of norms,” John concludes. And so we conclude: spread the joy, yourselves. Ms. Rhodes is clearly enjoying life, so follow in her footsteps. —Gwynned Vitello
The Fluevog X Zandra Rhodes collection launches at Fluevog stores everywhere and online, Friday, June 10th. Have fun!