When you walk down Bermondsey Street from London Bridge Station it is impossible to miss the striking orange and pink four-story building that appears on the left. When the iconic fashion and textile designer Zandra Rhodes found the place in the 90s, the forgotten neighbourhood had yet to be revived into the hip area it is now. Back then the building was just an empty warehouse and Zandra hired the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta to redesign it to the colourful place it is today. This is where she lives, works and also where she opened up the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2003.
At Democratic Design Days in June, IKEA announced the collaboration with Zandra Rhodes in order to explore how her vibrant style and bold patterns can be designed in an IKEA home context. Now it is December and Zandra is welcoming the IKEA design team to a two-day workshop in her studio. They will be going through all the ideas and discussing actual products for a collection, but first, she takes the group on a tour, floor by floor.
The museum on the bottom floor displays over 50 dresses and costumes, and lots and lots of sketches from her 50-year long career. A room Zandra likes to call “the pattern forest” is filled with original silkscreen prints. She takes us to the quilted cream satin costume Freddy Mercury wore in the early 70s, and tells us about how Queen came to her studio and she invited them to go through the racks and try on whatever they fancied. A wedding top in pleated silk that Zandra had been working on caught Freddie’s eye, and the rest is history: Queen’s most iconic stage clothes. While telling the story, two young museum visitors discretely joined the group to listen. They kindly ask if they can take a selfie with Zandra, and she immediately takes place between them for a photo. She is used by the attention by now, and admits is difficult to hide with bright pink hair.
Above the museum is a long narrow room that Zandra turned into a print room. Harriet, print manager at Zandra Rhodes studios has just finished some samples and the long table is still covered with wet paint.
“When I found this building in 1995, it was the fact that it had this long room that sold it for me. I knew that this could be the print room and anything else designed around it. This room is the heart of our business because this is where we put the patterns together,” says Zandra.
The print room is also where she stores some of the many silkscreens, all named and lined up in alphabetical order. A heavy binder, fittingly called “The Print Bible”, helps them keep track of a half century’s worth of patterns. The older ones are hand-drawn, but as they get more modern they become digital printouts.
Hayley Cowling, designer at Zandra Rhodes studio, shows the group a big mood board bursting with lively patterns that spread out across the wall. It is an explosion of ideas for new IKEA collaboration.
“We started with Zandra’s flowers, played around with them and made them bigger. We always push things as far as we can and then we say ‘OK, let’s bring it back a little’,” says Hayley.
After a tour of the print room, we finally reach the penthouse and the studio. For several hours the IKEA team together with Zandra and her team go through all the ideas they have for the collection and discuss the impact patterns and colours have. The floor is filled with sketches and patterns. Slowly they are grouped into different product ideas, all about how to express yourself and dress a beautiful and functional home.
“We really love that this collaboration will be about functional beauty because it is very much Zandra as a person. She loves to fill her home with pieces that bring joy and emotion but also serve a purpose,” says Hayley.
What is your takeaway from today’s workshop, Zandra?
“I love listening to everyone, with all their different points of view, and seeing how we, step by step, came to a conclusion. We didn’t say ‘Oh, we are just going to design this and design that’. We are doing design with a purpose. After all, we need to think about what people need, and we’ve got to do it properly, with thought so that we don’t just put things into production. That would have been pointless. What we design has to have a purpose, otherwise, you fill your life with things you don’t need,” says Zandra.
“We were really keen to step into Zandra’s world. Everything in her home seems to have a greater purpose. It’s memories, conversation starters, beautiful artefacts, colour and pattern – but you look closer and realise the things she surrounds herself with share equal functional importance as they do aesthetically. Like the metal glassware she brought to the table during lunch, they are a perfect example of Zandra’s ‘designed to last’ mentality. Home furnishing pieces that bring together both this idea of self-expression and functionality,” says Gemma Frith, Creative Leader at IKEA.
After a short break over the holidays, the workshop continues, when Zandra Rhodes and her team come to Älmhult.