Zandra Rhodes designs a life in fashion fast lane

Zandra Rhodes was born in Kent, England, in the 1940s and was introduced to the fashion world by her mother, a fitter in a Paris fashion house and a teacher at Medway College of Art. Rhodes studied textile design, first at Medway and then at the Royal College of Art in London.

Her early designs were considered too outrageous by the traditional British manufacturers, so in 1969, she established her own retail outlet on Fulham Road in West London. Rhodes’ lifestyle has proved to be as dramatic, glamorous and extroverted as her fashion designs. With her bright green hair (later changed to a spectacular pink and sometimes a radiant red), theatrical makeup and art jewelry, she has stamped her identity on the international fashion scene.

Rhodes’ inspiration comes from organic material and nature. Her innovative approach to the construction of garments can be seen in her use of reversed exposed seams, and jeweled safety pins and tears during the punk era.

Rhodes designed for the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and continues to design for the royal and the famous around the world. Over the years, she has had many academic and professional honors bestowed upon her, including six doctorates. She is a Royal Designer for Industry in the U.K. (conferred by Prince Phillip) and was made a Commander of the British Empire by the queen in 1997.

She has made San Diego her second home (Zandra Rhodes Studio, 444 S. Cedros, Suite 160, Solana Beach), and it was the San Diego Opera that in 2001 commissioned her to design the costumes for her first opera, “The Magic Flute.” Rhodes is the founder of the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, which opened in 2003.

What brought you to Del Mar?

I came to be with my partner, Salah Hassanein, who wanted to retire, and we bought a house right on the beach.

What makes this town special to you?

Fantastic Torrey Pines State Park and the California chaparral plant life.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in town?

Dinner parties should start at 8:30 p.m., not 6 p.m., and people should not be so punctual!

Who or what inspires you?

Friends who do things and travel.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

One of my most successful parties was with Diana Vreeland (high priestess of Vogue) with Larry Hagman (after he had been killed in “Dallas”) and 10 other artists.

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver and “White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga.

What is your most-prized possession?

My sketchbook.

What do you do for fun?

Jigsaw puzzles with videos playing in the background — “Casablanca” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

Original textile designs that have influenced the world on how textiles create great garment shapes. Also, the new view of dressing in the early 1970s that will go down in history: 1977 “High Priestess of Punk.”

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Good better best,

never let it rest,

till your good is better

and your better best.