By Diane Y. Welch
Zandra Rhodes of Del Mar is a legendary fashion and textile designer, who, for over four decades has made her mark on the world of fashion through her unique diaphanous, hand-screened fabric couture.
Rhodes was recently bestowed with a great honor in her native England (where she continues to live and work part-time) when she was installed as Chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts.
It was a grand, ceremonial affair, said Rhodes, with the pomp and dignity that is a hallmark of England's regal pedigree. To be in step with this nobility, Rhodes designed her own ceremonial robes, reminiscent of the fashions of King Henry VIII, which were then tailored by English robe makers Ede and Ravenscroft.
The chancellor is traditionally expected to don elaborate regalia befitting the high office, "but rather than opt for the traditional black, I used bright magenta and green, with a cap to match," said Rhodes, whose pink hair is her trademark feature, only secondary to her bright personality. "As this honor is usually for distinguished VIPs with lengthy histories, I really should have gray hair, but then no one would recognize me, so I'm not going to change it."
The proceedings, which took place on May 6 at the historic Banqueting House in London, began with a trumpet fanfare that ushered in a procession of dignitaries, headed by the university's Vice-Chancellor Elaine Thomas and Chairman of the Board of Governors Loyd Grossman.
Several hundred people sat in the audience to witness the historic event.
In his speech Grossman said of Rhodes, "Zandra is one of the world's most recognizable, distinguished and exciting designers. Her career has been built upon the foundations of hard work and determination which we believe will help inspire and motivate our students to succeed in their chosen careers."
After the speeches, Rhodes entered the hall preceded by the University Secretary who carried the ceremonial mace. "I felt like the Queen," Rhodes quipped. "They gave me a massively wonderful coronation complete with trumpeters on the balcony!"
UCA was accredited as a university in May 2008 when several arts colleges around the country were combined. At the same time, the search for chancellor, who serves as a ceremonial figurehead for the awarding of degrees, began. Rhodes is its first designated chancellor.
"It quickly became clear that the ideal candidate would be found among the ranks of our own alumni," explained Thomas.
Rhodes received a phone call about a year ago inquiring if she had an interest in the philanthropic role. "I was extremely honored to be offered this opportunity, which is typically given to very high level people," said Rhodes modestly. For example, Princess Anne serves as Chancellor of the University of London, and actress Diana Rigg is the Chancellor of the University of Stirling, said Rhodes.
Following the installation there was a buffet reception attended by several alumni from the Medway College of Design, one of the five founder institutions of UCA, where Rhodes first studied. Her mother also taught there.
"Half of the alumni there were from my class of 1959," said Rhodes, "it was a tremendous reunion, even though I couldn't recognize anyone. We've all changed."
Her sister and brother-on-law, Beverly and David Hayden accompanied Rhodes.
UCA has campuses in Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester, and is one of Europe's largest specialist universities of art, design, architecture, media and communication, according to the university prospectus. It serves 7,000 students annually with a wide range of arts courses, which include graphic and media design, the literary arts, fashion design and the fine arts.
Each year to come, Rhodes will officiate at the degree ceremonies. In May, she congratulated about 800 students from two of the campuses as she handed out their degrees in her new role as chancellor. "And I shook about 800 hands!" she laughed.