Dame Zandra Rhodes’ garments are works of art

"Textile, Print, and Form: A Lifetime of Magical Experimentation" by Dame Zandra Rhodes during First Friday in Raleigh.Erin Duncan

With a shock of hot pink hair and a radiant smile, Dame Zandra Rhodes exudes a youthful energy at the age of 78.

That liveliness permeates her clothing designs, which are featured in an exhibition at CAM Raleigh, “Textile, Print and Form: A Lifetime of Magical Experimentation,” on display through June 10. Rhodes will be at CAM for First Friday on March 2.

CAM exhibitions director Eric Gaard says Rhodes was a natural choice for the gallery’s fashion exhibition series.

“She’s always approached her work as an artist and not a fashion designer,” he says. “Her thinking transcends fashion. Her approach to process is really critical – she’s still sketching every single day. She approaches all of her work as an artist would.”

Rhodes began working as a textile designer nearly 50 years ago, eventually setting out on her own to design clothing.

“Her approach to printing textiles started in the ’60s with original screen printing, and everything is still done in silkscreen format,” Gaard says. “She loves the way the ink penetrates the textiles. Digital printing doesn’t do that.”

Zandra Rhodes
Dame Zandra Rhodes. // Photo courtesy of Gene Nocon


But while Rhodes’ clothing can be worn – she usually wears her own designs – these are no mere dresses and skirts. Each piece is an intricately assembled work of art.

For this exhibition, CAM highlights three techniques, in addition to screen printing used by Rhodes to create her work.

“Cutting and Slashing” involves cutting holes in garments and hemlines with knives. The technique dates to Elizabethan times, when it was used to layer different fabrics and allow the colors of each layer to show through.

Inspired by punk kids in London, “Holes and Chains” also features holes cut with knives, but then beautifully hemmed or pinned together with beaded safety pins and chains. With “Beading and Embroidery,” Rhodes creates what she calls “dimensional printing,” or creating a textural pattern with embellishments.

Though most people her age are content to enjoy the leisurely life of retirement, Rhodes continues tirelessly with her work, something Gaard hopes to celebrate with this exhibition.

“The fact that she has kept this process of art making going for 50 years and stayed relevant is really inspiring,” Gaard said.

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