My date with Zandra Rhodes plus a FREE GIVEAWAY to the Spring Knitting and Stitching Show 2019!

zandra Rhodes bust

Sometimes life brings you cherries. Or is it lemons? – better still an invite to an intimate audience with Zandra Rhodes! I graciously accepted the latter, of course. It would be rude not to. There then followed the inevitable what-to-wear meltdown.  My wardrobe is basically monochrome. But the tulle skirt and striped Tilly Agnes top served me well. And off I tottered to Bermondsey, South London – home to the London Fashion and Textile museum and Zandra Rhodes Rainbow Penthouse!

Clip-clopping over a jewel-emblazoned  stone floor, overlaid with that iconic wiggle design, I knew I’d arrived at the right place. I took the lift up to the Penthouse. The door opened and the colours were right there – shouting loud. Shouting this is totally Zandra’s pad!

zandra rhodes floor

inside Zandra Rhodes penthouse

And there was Zandra busying around in her gold-tipped pumps, book under one arm, croissant in the other, dressed impeccably in a bright red and pink kimono-wrap jumsuit. The design of which was all hers of course – that iconic lipstick print, still living on from when it was born circa 1968.

zandra rhodes rainbow penthouse interior

Zandra graduated with from the London College of Art with a degree in textile design. She worked hard alongside the likes of Hockney,  Ossie Clark and Warhol. The pop art revolution was very evident in her work

Aside from her successes she talked about her many knock backs. How for instance she approached Sandersons to sell some of her designs. They said her work didn’t sit at all well alongside their typical wallpaper collections. But all the same, purchased a single rose print in support of her, with the prediction that she would either fall flat on her face, or be a huge success. Well its very apparent what happened after that. And Zandra had no intentions of adapting!

zandra Rhodes talking

Zandra talked about process, how she first designs the print and then the  garment design follows on, inspired by that print. She walked over to a silk chiffon dress adorned with another of her iconinc designs – the ruffle print. Edgy romantic boho chic. Right there in the room. Noticeably, she didn’t once call for her assistant to retrieve or pass her anything. She just got up from her seat to show us, herself.  I’m already impressed by this and one of the questions asked, confirmed my thoughts.

What would you say is the secret to the longevity of your career, Zandra?

“Being boringly hardworking” was her exact reply.

This is not entirely a surprise already. She is sharp, witty, down to earth and recalls every major pitstop of her working life to let us know where she came from and how she landed up. So much pride but not a scrap of arrogance, no sense of entitlement, though relishes the title of Dame. And there’s reason behind that relish. She is bemused by how ‘quiet’ British Designers are on the global stage. She truly believes that the UK is home to some of the most talented designers in the world yet they disappear in to the fading archives of our memories.

“Does anyone know of Jean Muir?” she says?

Embarrassingly, I knew the name and had to look her up as soon as I left. How could I not know about this amazing designer hailed as the ‘English Vionnet’?

So I can see how being honoured as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire would help to get the word out! And I am certainly hanging on to Zandra’s every word right now.

On display, were posed some mannequins adorned in Zandra’s vibrant and most signatory creations that hadn’t seen the light of day for many years.

zandra rhodes for spring knitting and stitching show

It was such a privilege to see the black and gold knit dresses from her 1985 Egyptian collection. I love how the chains are worked into the design and the scarab inspired embellishments. On the second mock-wrap dress, the interaction with the stripes and the placement of the graphics is so striking and I would totally wear this today.

zandra rhodes egyptian knit

zandra rhodes egyptian knit

The chosen selection had been preserved in boxes and almost forgotten about until the planning began for her forthcoming retrospective: Zandra: 50 years of fabulous which will be held at the London Fashion and Textile Museum in September.  These were but a few of the exclusive selection that will also be making an appearance at the Spring Knitting and Stitching show 28th February – 3rd March 2019. Have you got your ticket yet? Read on to see how you can win a freebie!

I'm part of the Spring Knitting and Stitching Show

zandra rhodes knitwear

Who have you most enjoyed designing for?

Zandra described the pleated sleeves on the iconic Freddie Mercury outfit as one of her favourites. And the pink off-the-shoulder chiffon dress for Princess Diana. She chuckles at the prospect of a royal coming to visit her studio in Bermondsey for a fitting and describes how she went, garments laid over her arm to the palace!

There are things you have to consider when making dresses for the Royals. For instance Diana was quick to rule out any wrap dresses, claiming that the paparazzi would be waiting outside the car, willing a gust of wind and the ‘perfect shot’!

Is there another Royal you’d like to dress?

“I think Kate. Or Camilla!”

We all agreed that we’d love to see either.

What colour would you choose?

“I have no idea,” Zandra says sharply! (High five to the the no-faff response) And recalls that the original sample dress for Diana was black and shocking pink. “The royals never wear all-black outfits.” she adds.

I never knew that but it makes sense that black garments are reserved for funerals and sombre occasions. The Queen herself is famed for standing out in a crowd in her colourful outfits. And I suppose it makes a reporters job a little easier!

It is around this time that the telephone rings – a loud classic landline tone. Zandra continues talking to us and then with a little irritation says. “Just ignore it. It’s just an emergency line. No one knows that number. If they really want me they’ll call back.” The ringing continues and Zandra asks her assistant to take it off! “I’m not at home!” she yells across the room.

Then her mobile starts ringing.

“Hello?” she answers. “Oh hello darling……”

Zandra on phone

An upbeat and casual conversation continues before us. Plans being made to meet in Brighton. It feels a bit rude to be listening in but it would have been far more rude for the twenty or so of us to up and leave the room!

She signs off. Places the mobile on the table, leans forward to say in a cheeky voice, “I hate to name-drop, but that was Hilary Alexander!”

But you are Zandra Rhodes! I’m thinking.

Back to the questions and some of my favourites:

Do you wear clothes designed by others or do you only ever wear your own?

“I always wear my own. But if on the very odd occasion I do wear a pair of jeans I will paint them to make them my own.” She showed us examples from her book of a painted jacket and jean set. I can’t show you that. I’d have to actually kill you!

I’m inspired already. I painted a design on an outfit once (see here) and I want to do so much more now.

Do you dress up when you are working?

“Oh no. I’ll often wear a tracksuit to work in…”

Zandra in a tracksuit. Trying really hard to compute. Really hard.

“But fully made up and with jewellery of course.”

Phew! Faith restored.

What annoys you?

Interruptions! Constant interruptions and not enough time. There’s always something that stops you getting on with what you actually want to do.

Resonation maximum magnitude… Me too!

And what advice would you give to students or young people starting out?

“Don’t let people put you off. Believe in it enough yourself and the world will follow you. It justifies you in the end if you feel it inside. It might not bring you riches. But work hard and you will be successful.”

I take a big massive gulp of air at this point. Holding on to someones every word could be a sure path to suffocation if there were to be too many! I’ve heard people say this before. But not with such conviction. And certainly not from the mouth of such a wonderfully passionate and iconic 78 year old who claims that she’d hate to have nothing to do and has absolutely no plans on hanging up her tools. In fact secretly I’m pretty sure she’d love us all to bugger off so she can cut some potatoes up for a new print design. And yes she has used potatoes!

zandra rhodes press event

Writing this post and reading it back has left no doubt in my mind just how much of a fix inspiring people and seeing their work gives me. It’s like an injection of energy that gets me wanting to learn, create and explore so many more things. Cue starstruck photo opportunity with Zandra:

zandra rhodes with ooobop

I can’t wait to see the rest of Zandra’s exhibits at the Spring Knitting and Stitching show. And it’s really soon. So who wants to come too?

The Giveaway!

I have 5 pairs of complimentary tickets to give away and to get a chance to win, all you have to do is:

  1. Subscribe to my blog if you’re not already
  2. Leave a comment below and include the words ‘count me in’! Or hop over to follow me @ooobop on Instagram and leave a comment there.

The rules are:

  1. The winners will be drawn at random from an actual hat.
  2. You need to be able to travel to London Olympia for the show
  3. The tickets are valid Thurs 28th Feb: 10am-5.30pm, Fri 1st March: 10am-5.30pm & Sun 3rd March: 10am-5pm (Saturday is excluded)
  4. Giveaway closes at midday GMT on Monday 18th February  and winners will be announced later that day.
  5. Should you win, your postal address will be required so that I can post you the tickets.

Good luck everybody! Hope to see you there. Don’t know about you but I’m off to rifle through the salad drawer!

All views and photos my own and words spoken by Zandra best I can remember.

Classic Tailoring Techniques for Menswear: book review and Giveaway!

classic tailoring techniques for menswear

Today I would like to share a review of a great book that is already my best friend and bible for #Blazerof2016. The lovely people of Bloomsbury Publishing have not only sponsored me this fabulous book but have also sent an extra copy for one other lucky reader!

The title of the book is Classic Tailoring Techniques for Menswear: A Construction Guide. And this is the 2nd edition written by Roberto Cabrera and Denis Antoine since it first published in 1983.

My bookshelves are home to all sorts of sewing literature but when it came to ventures in proper tailoring techniques, none of them books scratched that itch, if you know what I mean.

I am a woman on a mission with a man’s jacket to make before June is out. Jamie has already completed his stunning plaid blazer and panic was beginning to set in fast. But now I have my trusty guide I feel the journey will be easier.

If ever I was doubting the ‘why’ of tailoring, the short and concise intro reassures the reader of the unsurpassable techniques over faster more modern ways to achieve that impeccable finish. It gives a brief but insightful history that inspires a preparation for a very slow but satisfying journey ahead!

classic tailoring for menswear intro

The contents include the following chapters: Tailoring; The Pattern; The Fit; The Fabric; Layout and Cutting; The Jacket; The Pants; The Vest; and Alterations.

There then follows an extended table of contents which allows the reader to go straight to the finer points within each chapter. The Jacket is clearly my primary concern and so when I come to pockets, I now have all the necessary information to create a welt, cash, patch, double-piped or double-piped pocket with flap should I choose to add one… or all of them!

As a book designer myself I’m very particular about presentation and I am a stickler for levels of information. So I’m very happy to report that I found the inside layout to be very clean and concise. The font is classic and unfussy, a good size with comfortable space and set in good readable chunks.

I must admit, at first I was disappointed by the black and white photography. It does appear take away some visual interest but on further inspection, all becomes very apparent. The hand-stitches which are crucial to the tailoring process along with other key marked areas are highlighted in red against the greyscale photography and therefore are easily recognised without distraction. It’s a more sophisticated approach than the sole use of line-drawn illustrations and diagrams which can sometimes be too graphic and disassociated with the real thing. Colour photography would have looked lovely – especially to see some of those coloured tweedy fibres – but style over substance would have been useless in this instance. I’m after good, clear and immediate instruction and this is what this book delivers.

The reality of the photography delivers on other levels too: you can identify the lay of the fabric, how it ripples, how it rolls, how it behaves. You’d never get that across with any amount of linework!

That said. This book also displays some fine line drawings which hone in on the tiniest details.

All the tailoring and understructure supplies you will need are clearly listed and defined along with necessary techniques and hand-stitches. And there is a  very well explained section on how to take measurements. The repeated photo of the man in white pants is a little distracting but as I mentioned before, far more preferable to a line drawing. It’s easier to see exactly where on the body those measurements should be taken. Nothing left to the imagination here!

classic tailoring taking measurements

And fitting is obviously a major part of the process. This section does good to address posture and body imbalance and how to identify the issues. I’m focussing on the jacket here and where wide shoulders and a stooped posture adjustment might come in dead handy, but should I venture into tailoring trousers in the future I’ll be ready for any amount of bow-legs, knock-knees and flat bottoms!

There is brief but great insight into the world of wool fabrics that are used in tailoring. The weights, the textures and the usages; naps, shrinkage and how to straighten a grain. This section may have benefitted from some colour just to see those checks and stripes pop, but again. It’s just the information I need. I can go see and stroke any amount of fabrics up the Goldhawk Road for that kind of fix!

Laying and Cutting Out covers exactly how the professionals do it. Great to see the hands at work and of course a vital section on matching plaids/checks and stripes.

classic tailoring for menswear

When I got to the Jacket section I was a bit overwhelmed. So much stuff to learn. But that is the whole point. I want to learn. And I want to have reference to it all. I want to get good at this and there is no fast track way. Just slowly and properly and remembering to enjoy each little step-by-step instruction. I’m really looking forward to making some shoulder pads. There’s a great how-to with a pattern at the back of the book. Incidentally there are also traceable patterns included for a French fly and a French tab and some other elements that I’m not going to pretend I know what they are yet!

The Trousers and Waistcoat sections are just as detailed. Covering the classic tailored processes for each stage. No stone unturned, it would seem.

The final section covers Alterations, which will prove invaluable if I ever I fancied some more unselfish sewing further down the line. And already I am inspired to pick up on the advice for relining a jacket. Something I have been putting off for so long (see this Boer War jacket). It is so simply and brilliantly explained that it makes me feel daft for every doubting my capabilities! And if you ever need to alter a pair of trousers for the man who has muscular inner thighs, look no further.

In fact, it’s all there: what you need, and what exactly you need to do to achieve each stage of a perfectly classic tailored jacket, waistcoat or pair of trousers. Brilliantly presented and clearly explained… in black and white (and red)!

If this little review of Classic Tailoring Techniques for Menswear has whetted your appetite, click here to be taken to Fairchild Books – an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing– where you can buy one for yourself and peruse all the other amazing fashion titles they have on offer.

Or if you fancy winning yourself a FREE copy, simply leave a comment below and let me know how you are getting on with #Blazerof2016 or indeed any other tailored garment you have plans for. Entries will be drawn on 30th April and the winner announced on 1st May 2016. It really is a fabulous prize – good luck!

Both the review and the giveaway copyies of Classic Taloring Techniques for Menswear were kindly given to me free of charge by Bloomsbury Publishing. All opinions expressed are my own.