The buzz of London Fashion Week is once again in the air, and some of the biggest names in fashion are dazzling us on and off the catwalk.
I recently had the immense privilege of interviewing one of the great London fashion icons, Dame Zandra Rhodes, about the person behind the label and what makes her such a strong personal brand. Here are some interview excerpts which highlight the personal branding attributes that make her brand so incredibly unique.
Lisa: You’re such a unique personal brand. What makes you differentiated from other designers, as a person?
Zandra: I don’t have to pretend to be anything else, so if they see me, that’s what they’re getting.
It’s making the brand authentic, but I think anyone that really founds a brand is going to collapse if they aren’t able to turn to their genuineness, whether it’s being you know gorgeous and pure and ivory, and that’s what they’re like, you know what I mean, I think you’d otherwise you’d fall short if you were selling the brand, and as it where, you’d always have to step into a pretend mode.
I always found that if I tried to pretend, let’s say that my things weren’t selling well enough and maybe I should do Theirry Mugler or maybe I should do another designer, there would be no point, because the people come to me for Zandra Rhodes.
Her passion and purpose
Lisa: And what are you the most passionate about?
Zandra: I suppose I’m most passionate about textile design, that’s how I started. And fashion for me was a vehicle for my textile design. And I always imagine how the textile designs will look, I always think of how they should go. So I suppose that’s why I’m the personality that’s with them.
Lisa: What’s most meaningful to you?
It’s very meaningful to finish design and see a dress and know you’ve finished it. That is probably the most difficult because there’s so much to do that you get everything else done but the dress or the print.
But in the meantime, I love looking at my garden and when I’ve been a way it’s nice to see how the plants have come along. I like cooking because I like entertaining, so I think they are all things that I sort of fit in and make one’s life more whole than it would be otherwise.
Her inspirations and “brand heroes”
Lisa: Who are your biggest influences?
Zandra: My first meeting with Diana Vreeland the high priestess of fashion in New York. She had this wonderful hook nose and this red rouge all around her face and she said something and if she said the sky is red, it would have to be because she said it. And she would dominate the whole room, and I think when I get to be old, it would be rather nice to do that.
Lisa: Absolutely. And who are your other brand heroes, anyone else?
Zandra: I think of someone like someone like Edith Sitwell with all of her rings and her strengths. You know I think anyone that really believes in what they do becomes a brand. Because you just have to steam ahead and if everyone else laughs at you, then so what, that’s you’ve got to know that it’s their bad luck.
Her outer brand
Lisa: Let’s talk about your outer brand. Your outer brand is the strongest I’ve seen in a long time. You have this unique personal style. Tell me about when you made this your own.
Zandra: I think I’ve grown into it over the 50 years. I think that it evolves. First of all you try something. I mean I love it sometimes looking at old photographs and I look terrible in them. And I think I really go around looking like that?
So I just think that if it’s something you just do, I like to put the make up on in the morning, and that’s what I go by and that’s what I am.
Her lifestyle branding
Lisa: Now we are here in your fantastic rainbow penthouse, and it is such a reflection of your personal brand. What do you love about it?
Zandra: I think colours are happy. If it was black I think we would be very depressed. I had a friend who went to Connecticut last weekend and stayed with some friends and he said the whole house was black and white and there were no objects around. I mean you only have to touch one of my objects, probably covered in dust because we got so many of them, but I just like them around to look at, you know, to think, oh I could make a broach out of this or this would make a lovely pattern on a dress.
Lisa: And you host events here as well as some sample sales. I’ve been to a few, they are a lot of fun, really fabulous events. Now that’s quite an intimate thing, to open up your home to your consumers. Why do you do it?
Zandra: I find I think I believe so much in my brand that it’s nice when people want to participate and understand the brand, and know and feel that that comes over as well. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy, I think having a meal together is a lovely way where you can exchange ideas and talk about things that you wouldn’t do otherwise.
Her Social Responsibility
Lisa: And you are also a very socially responsible personal brand. Tell us a bit about the charities or the causes that you are involved with
Zandra: I was involved with making people aware of breast cancer but of course they attach it to the pink. I help with um women being aware of strokes in America, which is is you know is very good. I did a dress, In that one I did a whole big dress show with 78 garments that we showed spectacularly in a fabulous hotel in San Diego when it was called Go Red for women.
When you become a personality, I think you end up realizing that you also have a debt to society so that where you can fit in things, it’s it’s good to add your name in them.
Her branding secret
Lisa: Now, you flew in from San Diego, your second home, just this morning, you are back in action, as fresh and vibrant as ever.
Zandra: That’s because I’m being filmed! Make up…hair…
Lisa: So what’s your secret?
Zandra: I think the most essential think is that you’ve got to like what you do. Then you’ve got to like what you do enough to do it even if you don’t feel like it. I think today you can’t afford to relax. Today, there’s a camera looking at you, snapping you on Snapchat, or whatever.
You know so that I think you’ve got to put your best foot forward. And the most important thing apart from working hard are surround yourself with friends that encourage you, don’t stay with the ones that put you down, you can find them anywhere. They can go off and put someone else off.
You know, your best doing things and you never know where it leaves. Things could come from the left field anytime. And you don’t know why. I mean I didn’t know I would go into making dresses. I was a dress designer that hated teaching, you know couldn’t bear teaching, So it will just take you to wherever it wants to go.
Her next chapter
Lisa: What does the next chapter hold for you?
Zandra: The next chapter at the moment is extremely exciting. We just done a range of looking back at the classics that I did, the Princess Diana dress, the Donna Summers dress, the oh what’s the other one called, and we are remaking them and they are going into a huge line in the shop. So it’s really really exciting.
Zandra has just launched her stunning capsule collection, which can be found exclusively at Matchesfashion.com
Her advice on establishing yourself as a strong brand in the fashion industry
Lisa: And what’s one piece of advise you would give to someone trying to establish themselves as a strong brand in this industry?
Zandra: To anyone trying to establish themselves as a brand in an industry, is to really be as brave as you can and just do. You know, whatever you do in life, if you don’t do it, you don’t get anywhere, if you do do it, ok you stand in front of the firing squad, and if your lucky, you continue on.
What more can you do, you know?
A rough cut of the entire interview can be found here: