At Home With Zandra Rhodes
Published April 5, 2012
With her trademark hot pink hair, Zandra Rhodes is impossible to miss. “Pink hair gets me everywhere,” she jokes about the signature hue for which she is famous. “I did dye it black once,” she shares, “and I felt very boring.” Boring, Zandra Rhodes is definitely not. In fact, this iconic British fashion and textile designer lives much like she looks.
The Del Mar beach home she shares with longtime partner Salah Hassanein is filled with her bold, bright colors and patterns — the hand-printed textiles that revolutionized fashion when they first burst onto the scene in the 60s. In a guest room, for example, her flowing blue-and-white fabrics cover the bed and frame views of the sea, complemented by a carved Indian screen. Another room has a four-poster bed fashioned with mirrors and seashells by her artist friend Andrew Logan, along with fishing net draped with pearls. Logan also designed the collection of mirrored portraits of Rhodes and Hassanein that hang in the staircase.
Hassanein, the Egyptian-born former president of Warner Brothers and United Artists, collects Olaf Wieghorst paintings of cowboys and Indians, his homage to the country that gave him so much opportunity. Add his collection of decoy ducks, and you have a home what is decidedly eclectic, but still not bold enough for Rhodes’ tastes. “If I had a free hand, that house would be painted bright pink and bright blue on that beach,” she says with a laugh, “and there would be a rebellion from all the people around.”
It was Hassanein who persuaded Rhodes to move from London to Del Mar more than 20 years ago. Then president of United Artists, he often had visited the beachside home of the studio’s owner. “He decided he wanted to retire and live by the sea in Del Mar,” Rhodes recalls. Even though she was accustomed to the excitement of London and Paris, Rhodes went with him. “Sometimes you have to follow your heart as well as your work,” she says. “But then I found out, I couldn’t live without my work, and luckily, he’s a workaholic, too.
Rhodes now divides her time between her Fashion and Textile Museum in London, where she lives in the top-floor penthouse, decorated in rainbow colors, and her studio in the Cedros Design District where she sees clients and works on a myriad of projects: two collections a year, a fur collection for Pologeorgis in New York, a line for larger women, handbags, and jewelry. Rhodes also designed the costumes for the San Diego Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, which has since traveled to three other locations, and both the sets and costumes for The Pearl Fishers, which has toured a dozen cities. Her Egyptian-inspired designs for the Houston Grand Opera’s production of Aida come to San Diego in 2013. She currently is working on costumes for an 18-foot-high Lady Godiva, who will reside in England’s Coventry Cathedral. During the Olympics, the lady will travel to London, powered by 100 bicyclists. Rhodes is particularly excited about a project she’s working on with the Princess of Jordan to publicize the ancient city of Petra.
Together, Rhodes and Hassanein raise funds for UC San Diego’s Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center, San Diego’s first designated heart center. Rhodes also designs the invitations, programs, and other artwork for Heart of San Diego, the center’s annual gala. Hassanein is committed to Children’s Lifeline, which provides lifesaving cardiac surgery and care to children in developing countries. Rhodes loves to cook, so the couple often entertains, donating sunset dinners on their lovely beachfront terrace to benefit the Old Globe Theatre and Athenaeum Music & Arts Library. The menu might include homemade green pea soup, poached salmon, and for dessert, English bread-and-butter pudding, delicious if not calorie-free.
Rhodes, who has seen a resurgence of interest in her work in recent years, has no plans to retire. She is philosophic about the ever-fickle world of fashion. “The only thing you can rely on in fashion is change,” she says. “You have to change. You can’t stay totally in a warp.” But on the other hand, she believes, you have to stay true to yourself, come what may. “If you’re a true original, you’re going to have it that people either like you one minute, or they don’t, you see what I mean?”
Even though she has designed for everyone from royalty to rockers — she was once called “The Queen of Punk” — and received all sorts of honors and accolades, including Commander of the British Empire, Rhodes remains kind, self-effacing, funny, refreshingly honest, and very down-to-earth. How does it feel to be a fashion icon? “As long as you don’t believe in it,” she says, “you’re all right. The minute you’ve got to be pumped up by that, I think that’s when you’ve got to worry.” Andrea Naversen