British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes revealed her latest collection of global impressions in fabric Wednesday night at Neiman-Marcus in Fashion Island.
The first Southern California showing of "Spanish Impressions" provided the focus for a black-tie dinner-dance attended by more than 300 supporters of the Newport Harbor Art Museum.
Working in blazing desert sun colors--Andalusian blue, raw reds, ochres and blacks--Rhodes has indeed captured the alternately hot-blooded and softly sensuous romance of Spain, while deftly avoiding any sense of costume.
Like so many variations on an original theme, each statement seemed to begin with the print itself and work outward, coming to rest at the jeweled tiaras and lace eyepieces at one end and the ornamental detail of the hemlines at the other. Asymmetry played a telling part.
Included in the print patterns were peacock feathers, flower pots, bows and ribbons, and fireworks. Materials incorporated faille and silk chiffons. On the runway, the models feigned the gay chatter of so many factory workers from Bizet's "Carmen"; excerpts from the opera in fact provided the background music along with Peggy Lee's "Golden Earrings."
After the show, Rhodes, sporting her signature pink hair, striped eyebrows and polka-dotted fingernails, reflected on her work.
"I'm a designer who supplies exoticness to peoples' lives," said the 46-year-old designer for royalty and one-time High Priestess of Punk. "But discreet exoticness. People tend to think my designs are more extreme than they really are--I think that's because they see me before they ever get to the next stage."
Rhodes, who was originally trained as a textile designer, feels her clothes have often been misunderstood by the media.
"A lot of fashion is basically a very simple thing," she said. "I tend to get upset when it's accessorized so strongly that when it's on the catwalk, it looks one way, then when it's worn afterward, the original intent has become unrecognizable. You don't need to do that (accessorize) with my things, now do you?
"I feel very sad when one of my dresses is gotten hold of by a fashion magazine, only to then be interpreted with absolutely none of the spirit with which I conceived it. It might be a very beautiful dress, for instance, but if the article's about 'sexy,' they'll show the dress half hanging off.
"There are a lot of lovely images in my shows. When they don't get taken up--by that I mean understood and publicized--well, that's why I initially wrote my book ('The Art of Zandra Rhodes'). I felt I was designing in a very fickle medium, in a medium that, if something weren't publicized, it would never get remembered."
Meanwhile, several of Rhodes' dresses, which she calls "butterflies," are included in the permanent collections of several major museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The crowd seemed to best relate to the beaded and embroidered dresses; Jim Nussbaum, Laguna Beach hand-painted silk designer, also seemed impressed.
"When you see other designers' glittery clothes--just look around the room here tonight--it looks like so much yardage put onto a body," Nussbaum noted. "Here there are intricacies, subtleties. The detail is fabulous."
Although upcoming Laguna Beach designer Jennifer Blue pooh-poohed the lace eyepieces as being old hat--"Prince has done it for years," she said--she had nothing but praise for the rest of the show. (Blue, who works with Nussbaum, has just been nominated for the More Award for fashion excellence.)
Rhodes has been the house guest of event chairperson Nancy Zinsmeyer this week; she had a surprise waiting upon her arrival: Zinsmeyer (who wore a Zandra Rhodes gown to the party) had completely wallpapered the guest bedroom in her Big Canyon home with 150 Zandra Rhodes art posters.
"And the front door bell plays 'Rule Brittania!' " added Rhodes gleefully. "Isn't that wonderful? It takes coming to Newport Beach for something like that."