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Home Comforts: Zandra Rhodes, the high priestess of punk, on what tickles her pink

At home in Bermondsey, the designer has plants older than her apartment, is a pro at pommes dauphinoise and collects, among many other things, pebbles. She’s also nothing if not surprising, as we learn on asking what she’s watching at the moment…

Grace Helmer

Walking along Bermondsey Street, it’s hard to miss the Fashion and Textile Museum. A tangerine block of tremendous proportions, it towers over its genteel Georgian neighbours. But that’s not the only thing that sets it apart. Just as Windsor Castle has its fluttering flag, so this palace of print and pattern has its ensign: a starry explosion of yucca leaves that poke their spiky heads over the penthouse balcony wall, heralding the presence of punk royalty within. This is the home of Dame Zandra Rhodes.

Some of you may remember our visit to her apartment last year, when we were wowed by the designer’s utterly infectious approach to collecting: more is more is this woman’s motto, whether it’s colour or crockery, pebbles or plants. Every corner of her home is crammed with beloved keepsakes, mementos, mosaics, photos and artworks, each a reminder of a treasured place or face. In fact, so enchanted were we by what we found, we invited ourselves back for a second helping, this time to quiz Zandra on the finer details of her domestic set-up, hoping to gain a deeper glimpse of what life is really like up on that roof of hers. Reader, we were not disappointed.

My most recent home improvement…
Finally getting my bedroom done. I travelled all over the place before Covid and was backwards and forwards to California all the time, which was where my late boyfriend, Salah Hassanein, lived. Because I wasn’t in London much, my bedroom was very ad hoc. My bed was really just a load boxes of clothes covered with foam.

When it came to redoing it, as well as putting up all the pictures I’d been saving, I furnished it with all sorts of things I’d designed over the years – the bed I’d done for Savoir Beds, a gorgeous screen, a rug I’d designed for Fuli, and one of my wallpapers for Rebel Walls, which the company said I could have in any colour I like. I firmly believe that if you design things, you design them because you believe in them, so why wouldn’t you live with them?

It was a really an exciting adventure. And now I’ve got a smart bedroom! I feel very spoiled.

The latest addition to my wardrobe…
A complete collection of the printed dresses I’ve recently done for Wallis in collaboration with Debenhams. They’re lovely, flowing, summery frocks in beautiful bright colours. I’ve barely worn anything else for the last few months.

The most useful item in my kitchen…
I like my mandolin, which I use to make pommes dauphinoise as it slices potatoes in a trice. That’s my signature dinner-party dish. I’m still waiting for someone to say: ‘We’ve had this before!’, but they’re very good at keeping it to themselves.

What’s always in my fridge…
Tomatoes and milk. My freezer, meanwhile, is full of leftovers. I make a lot of soup, which I shove in there. It means I’ve always got something in an emergency.

The prize bottle in my drinks cabinet…
Elderflower cordial and cheap white wine. I don’t drink, but I always have a bottle ready for other people when they come over.

Hanging on my walls…
Work by friends. I’ve got paintings by Duggie Fields, for instance, and lots of things made by Andrew Logan, including a mirrored portrait of Gandhi, and portraits of me with my boyfriend that I commissioned for his various birthdays. I’d send Andrew a picture each year he’d make the portrait. The first one was for Salah’s 91st and they went all the way up to his 98th. How gorgeous are they? I love them.

I have lots of pottery too, which was the first thing I started collecting, really. I have a lot of ceramics by Kate Malone and Carol McNicoll, whose pieces I’ve been buying since they were students at the Royal College of Art. They’ve since become friends of mine.

The knick-knacks on my mantelpiece…
I don’t have a mantelpiece but I do have many, many knick-knacks. I’m unfortunately the ultimate knick-knack person.

Arranged in a circle around the tulip vase in the middle my dining table, for instance, I have hundreds of pebbles and stones. I’ve got all sorts. I don’t remember what all of them are, but there are bits from Petra, a piece of the Berlin Wall and a few crystals, as well as a carved tortoise, a piece of lapis lazuli and an opal that was given to me when I visited Australia in 1971 – that was when I started the collection. I’ve also got some candles from Ireland that look just like pebbles. They’re brilliant.

I sometimes dot small vases with single roses in among them, though the tulips are everlasting. I hate coming home to dead flowers.

The books on my shelf right now…
I’m reading two fashion books: André Leon Talley’s memoir, and one by Diane von Furstenberg. She sent me a signed copy and I thought I better read it! I knew André since he was very young and I’ve known Diane forever too. I do like reading books by friends, though I don’t read enough. I find it hard to make the time – I’ve got too many other things to do.

The music on my stereo…
I’m a Radio Four person – I have it on all the time. It means the only music I ever really hear is on Desert Island Discs. I do like going to concerts though, but I only really manage to get it together if I’m invited. I really ought to go for a night at the Proms.

Growing in my garden…
On the north side, I’ve got all the plants that want to be in semi-shade. Some of the camellias there are more than 50 years old. One of them was already 20 when I brought it back from Paris.

On the sunny southern side, I’ve got roses and pink peonies, an Australian bottlebrush, mint, fennel, a miniature peach tree… I’ve also got a blackcurrant bush and a gooseberry, but perhaps not for much longer. I got five blackcurrants last year – five! – and not a single gooseberry.

I’ve also got a hydrangea terrace that runs outside the wall of windows in the living room. There are three gigantic yucca trees there too, all of which came from the same small pot plant I was given in 1975.

Hidden away in my cupboards…
My wardrobes are crammed full. I need to sort them out. I find it hard to throw things away, as I think that maybe one day I’ll find a use for them. I rarely do.

On my to-do list…
I want to install a screen and a projector in my living room, so I can have people over for dinner and watch a film afterwards. I have a television in my bedroom, which Andrew Logan embellished for me, so I tend to go to bed and put something on Netflix on – I’m rewatching the Harry Potter films at the moment; they’re so comforting – but I’d love to watch films with friends. We could sit around the table and pretend we’re at the cinema. I might get a chaise longue too. That would be nice.

Further reading

A Home with a History: life in Technicolor, with Zandra Rhodes

The Fashion and Textile Museum

Zandra Rhodes

Zandra on Instagram

Photograph: Bridie O’Sullivan


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