Her expressive wardrobe has caused Missy West, the opera's costume supervisor, to photograph what the petite designer wears to each of her sessions in the costume shop. West is also documenting the costume building process. "For us, this is probably the most pleasant experience that we have had with a designer, bar none," said West. "She loves to learn something. That is her way of being open to the world. She has no ego problem with someone having another idea."
Rhodes proved to be an adept and thrifty costume designer. Though she insisted on pink and blue Lurex monkey fur that cost $380 a yard, she also crafted headdresses out of pillowcases plucked from the bargain bin--and came in under budget.
"Because she has designed fashion for so long, she knows how to design things that look good at all angles," Campbell said. "She had to learn from us a little on how you design for the stage and not for Lady Diana." For example, Rhodes skipped using real feathers for the bird-man Papageno, because, said West, feathers can break and "pick up enormous amounts of dust and don't let it go until the singers open their mouths to sing." Instead, Rhodes and the costume craftsmen devised "feathers" from shredded silk zig-zag stitched onto lengths of weed wacker line.
It is only at the dress rehearsal, just days from opening night, that Rhodes and her staff will see the final product with all elements, from lights to actors. "The challenge really occurs in the fact that when you are trying something new, you are not quite sure that it will work," Rhodes said. "It's all, really, high-class experiment."
Rhodes has frequently embraced local projects in her part-time home, whether she's lecturing about fashion, giving tours of her colorful house or designing a children's museum exhibit. "She's really integrated herself into the community," said her longtime friend, Beverly Hills art collector and writer Joan Agajanian Quinn. They met in the '70s in London, and Quinn was so taken with Rhodes' hair and clothes, that ever since, she has dyed red or green streaks into her hair and worn Rhodes' designs. Her friendship with Quinn and subsequent visits to Los Angeles have introduced Rhodes to the colors, landscape and ethnic influences of California. And now they will influence the look of the new museum.
The 10,255-square-foot building will be dedicated to all British textile and clothing designers who helped revolutionize modern fashion, including Mary Quant, Ossie Clark, John Galliano and, of course, Rhodes. "I saved over 2,000 of my original [textile and clothing designs] and felt they should be housed with a permanent home," she explained.
Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta designed the bright orange and pink building to be as striking as Rhodes' designs. "I made sure that I have the floors covered in my wiggles," she said. She financed the first phase of the museum by selling her London home and creating eight penthouse apartments atop the museum, where she also will live in one of them.
After the five San Diego performances, the "Magic Flute" costumes could one day be displayed in the museum. Rhodes counts herself lucky to have done an opera, "so you don't get in the same old mold." She even launched a "Magic Flute"-themed evening wear collection recently as a result of the project. "And I'd love if they asked me to do the sets another time," she said, though no plans have been finalized. "Before all this," she said. "I wasn't an opera buff." She is now.