For vanities sake I’m leaving out how old I was when I joined the Fashion & Textile Museum in 2003, embarking upon one of my favourite but sadly short and sweet periods in my creative life. In the May of that same year I had graduated from my Fashion degree course, hungry to begin my journey as a sponge and soak up everything I possibly could from the best, whilst trying to figure out exactly where and who creatively I wanted to be.
After finishing up 5 months of pattern and toile production with the wonderful design duo based in West London, Gharani Strok I was onto my next big adventure in the Big Smoke. (Ending with a rather hilarious but ultimately disastrous 5 minutes in charge of the VIP guest list at the catwalk backstage entrance. Hadn’t the foggiest who anyone was.)
I always remember vividly receiving a phone call from the Fashion & Textile Museum Curator Mr Dennis Nothdruft, as I was completely bowled over that he had chosen to call me, of all people. He’d thanked me for the numerous copies of colourful CV’s I’d sent in, (My strategy at the time was to bombard until they said yes… it worked on this occasion.) and then asked if I would like to come and join them working on designing and creating some costumes for their annual charity pantomime show…errr yep!
The brief at the time was to design and create 2 costumes incorporating some signature Zandra Rhodes prints. We were partnered with a fellow Textile design graduate and the task was simple; design, create the pattern, print up from the vast screens available and stitch away. The pantomime was Aladdin and I was allocated Widow Twanky and the bad guy. (I searched for the photos, cannot find them but will add as soon as I do. They are a treat for the eyes.)
Fellow graduates began to peel away and not before long there was a mere 2 of us left to complete the main character’s costumes. By sheer luck my companion was the equally dedicated and hilarious Textile Designer, Anna Whitford Nelson who helped end the experience on an absolute high. (Of course the costumes looked fabulous too.) I learnt a heck of a lot during that period; perseverance, working to a brief, budget and deadline, building costumes to a set of measurements and completing a project whilst maintaining all enthusiasm and humour when the workload increased. At the time I was still living in Essex, holding down a full time job whilst trying to complete some work experience in the industry in London. It served me well for my future roles in the industry as I developed a keen sense of work ethic and time management. Something which I would advise all graduates whatever the industry to take the time to seek out.
Following on from the success of delivering the main character’s costumes I was then asked to stay on and help out in Zandra’s studio for the run up to the 2004 collection. I loved every minute of the experience. At the time the set up was all in house, with the studio above the museum and a small team of highly skilled machinists and pattern cutters. My duties varied from hand stitching buttons and labels to delicately cutting printed silk pieces which were matched meticulously against a printed hard pattern. It was a highly creative environment with the nicest, warmest group of artisans to help you along the way.
The years after my time with the Zandra Rhodes team I fell into a career within Fashion brands and retail as a Garment Technologist. Which although I am grateful for the opportunities it afforded me, it was also a less creative period for me.
The museum and Dame Zandra Rhodes have always been a fantastic support for students and graduates alike and I am truly grateful for the experiences I had and will always look back on that time with great fondness, which is why I have chosen to illustrate and dedicate this piece to Dame Zandra Rhodes.
From the 27th September 2019 the Fashion & Textile Museum are showcasing a retrospective of Zandra’s extraordinary career over 50 years. If you can pop along I imagine it will be well worth the visit.