Ask iconic fashion designer Zandra Rhodes for her beauty secrets and she bursts out laughing. “I never take my make-up off before I go to bed. When I wake up I wash my face and put more on,” the 77-year-old says. Rhodes, who has dressed everyone from Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Onassis to Debbie Harry and Princess Diana, isn’t enthusiastic about exercise either but forces herself to do an hour-long workout twice a week. The one-time “princess of punk,” officially known as Dame Zandra after being honored by Queen Elizabeth in 2014 for her services to the British fashion and textile industry, refuses to slow down. Her outfits can be found in stores worldwide. She is currently working with Valentino, and Matchesfashion.com and has diversified into designing opera outfits, rugs, bed linen, china and make-up and her company, Zandra Rhodes, will mark its milestone 50th anniversary and it’s still going strong in the notoriously fickle fashion industry.
Here, she tells Senior Planet about her half-century in fashion, Meghan Markle’s royal sparkle and her own tips for dressing after a certain age.
Senior Planet: You were way ahead of your time dying your hair pink. How do you feel about today’s green and blue shades?
Rhodes: “I started dying my hair in 1972, it was revolutionary at that time and the dyes hadn’t been perfected, they weren’t permanent and bled. Now I can dye my hair and sleep normally in bed. I have no wish to go gray! Recently I was at the opera and people not quite a lot younger than me had all sorts of colors, a real rainbow. That must take some maintenance.”
Senior Planet: How has your own style evolved as you’ve got older?
Rhodes: “I think the rules are more heavily set against women. For example, I wouldn’t wear a sleeveless dress now, my arms hang down, and if I was going to wear a mini dress I would wear it with trousers. As you age, you work out a way of disguising the loose bits.”
Senior Planet: You split your time between Britain and California, and are still working flat out. Any plans to retire?
Rhodes: “I’ve been in San Diego for 22 years but I go back to London one week every month because my company is there and I need to be there for work. I pretend jetlag doesn’t exist but I probably fall asleep all over the place. My partner (former Warner Brothers executive Salah Hassanein) is 20 years older than me and he didn’t want to keep working. He wanted to retire and live by the sea. I agreed on the condition that I kept working. He’s 97 now and in a wheelchair and I feel guilty if I am away too much for work. But I don’t want to retire. It might be nice to have people waiting on me but I don’t think I could handle that. ”
Senior Planet: Some of your most flamboyant costumes will be seen in the upcoming Queen movie ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ Can you tell us about your friendship with singer Freddie Mercury and guitarist Brian May.
Rhodes: “This was so wonderful, Freddie and Brian came to me before I had a shop and before they had really made it. They understood the beauty of my garments, the way they move and the opera style. I fitted the actor (Rami Malek, who is playing Mercury in the movie) and I believe they are planning copies of my outfits in the theaters when in opens in November.”
Senior Planet: You started your London studio in 1969. How do you plan to celebrate the 50-year milestone?
Rhodes: “I have a book coming out and we’re going to celebrate with a retrospective exhibition. I am having talks about it with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and also in New York.”
Senior Planet: You dressed Princess Diana and her cherry blossom dress is still one of your most memorable pieces. What do you think about Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s dress sense?
Rhodes: “I think they are both developing their own styles and they are doing wonders for the British hat industry. They dress impeccably and I wouldn’t say no for doing a dress for them. Meghan was very clever in the choice of her wedding gown, she chose an understated dress that was beyond criticism.
Senior Planet: What does aging with attitude mean to you?
Rhodes: “I don’t think about my age and when people ask me I don’t lie. It comes on you so gradually. I don’t feel any older and I have lots of young friends. I go out and don’t realize that all the people with me are far younger. I employ a lot of young people and I take their advice on designs.”
Zandra Rhodes photo credit Simon Emmett