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Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles at MassArt

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It’s hard to imagine that Zandra Rhodes hasn’t had a major retrospective at one of the venerable New York fashion institutions. The eccentric British fashion designer known for her flamboyant style and colorful textile designs is the subject of a 40 year retrospective at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Organized by the Mingei International Museum in collaboration with the Fashion and Textile Museum (the museum she opened in London), the exhibition traces Rhodes' career by exploring how shape, color, technique, and travels have influenced her textiles and fashions.

This exhibition isn’t about exquisitely constructed, highly structured garments. This isn’t to say that Rhodes doesn’t pay attention to details or construction, she does. In fact, some of the dresses on exhibit are so detailed that a photograph may not capture all their intricacies. But garment construction isn’t what Zandra Rhodes is known for.

Here, rainbow colored prints sometimes in clashing colors are the main attraction. This makes sense since Rhodes considers herself first and foremost a textile designer. Having never studied fashion design, Zandra Rhodes rose to fame immediately following her first solo collection in 1969 in London. In that show, she featured her signature textile designs and her now famous “73/44” dress.

Using cutting, slashing, and tearing techniques, Rhodes created a dress that flatters the figure by working around the shape of the print. That dress has a pronounced v-neckline, graceful sleeves and a waist that gathers into a full skirt. It became hugely popular in the 1970’s and has since been worn by celebrities and dignitaries all over the world. It continues to be revisited year after year and you’ve probably seen your favorite celebrity wearing one.

Color is one of the most important elements in Rhodes’ work and if the shocking pink walls don’t catch your attention, the cobalts, lemony-yellows, orangey-rubies and fuchsias in the dresses will. With more than 40 dresses, accessories, sketches and other ephemera on display, the exhibition captures the essence of the fashion and textile designs of Zandra Rhodes. There's so much color in this exhibition you'll begin to think you're part of a carnival parade.

A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles takes the viewer through Rhode’s entire creative process—from drawing of the print to the cutting of the fabric. Her textiles hang like tapestries behind the dresses that made her an international fashion icon. Apart from showing Rhodes’ imaginative designs, these hung textiles emphasize how she uses color and shape to craft her garments. It’s a treat to see firsthand how her prints dictate the flow of the dress.

In recent years, the Boston area has witnessed a surge in fashion exhibits and that's a great thing. From the Peabody Essex Museum's Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel to the American Textile History Museum's High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture, and now this latest exhibit at MassArt celebrating Zandra Rhodes' contributions to the industry, fashion in museums is here to stay.


Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery

"Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles" is on view Sep 12 - Dec 1, 2012 at Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

All images are courtesy of the designer and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

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About Author

Anulfo AKA The Evolving Critic is a preservationist and blogger with a strong interest in architectural history, urbanism, and the parallels between fashion and architecture. He holds degrees in Tourism Planning and Development from the University of New Hampshire and in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University. Anulfo has written for the Boston Society of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He oversaw BR&S's blog, Our Daily Red, from 2012-14.

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