— On a mission to change perceptions about growing older. Starring inspirational people over 70 —


Ageing, ageism, photography, stories

24th September 2019

Zandra Rhodes, 79

Zandra is a British fashion designer whose brand turns 50 this year. She is also the founder of London’s Fashion Textile Museum.

“My mother taught dressmaking in an art college and I used to love wearing her pretty little dresses on a Sunday to visit my granny. The local kids would laugh at me and throw stones, so I had to run through the park, but I wouldn’t allow anyone to stop me wearing what I wanted. I am very lucky that I have always been pretty thick skinned. I once got a letter from a girl who was at school with me apologising for always laughing at me on the school bus. I hadn’t even noticed! I seem to be immune to all that. If you care too much about other people’s opinions, it can stop you from experimenting or trying new things.

I was a very boring, hard-working girl at school. I didn’t particularly want to go out or rebel. I think that’s the secret to my success to be honest. When I give lectures, I say you can be anything you want to in life, but you have to work hard. If you have a birthday party that clashes with a presentation – tough. If your alarm goes off at 6am and you don’t feel like getting up – tough. I was lucky that I had a very hard-working mother so I had her as a role model. To me, the only thing that doesn’t let you down in life is your work. You can’t rest on your laurels though – it might seem like you’ve made it but there are always peaks and troughs.

I was in my late forties when I met my boyfriend and I’d pretty much given up by then. I’d kill myself to get dates. Men can’t cope with women who work most of the time, so I was lucky to meet a fellow workaholic by chance at a dinner party. He was very conservative – he couldn’t believe my hair – but we were a good match regardless. The 18-year old difference sounds a lot, but it’s not that significant when you’re past 40. We didn’t have children but to some extent I have children in my life as there are young kids around at work the whole time, along with friend’s grandchildren who often visit.

I wouldn’t touch plastic surgery. I don’t even wash my make up off at night

Having good friends is enormously important. You have to be positive in life and if you’ve got good friends, that helps. I like cooking, so I’ll often have 10 or 15 people over for dinner here at the flat. When I am not in the UK, I have another home right on the beach in Delmar, California, where all the surfers are. I exercise more over there – I’ll do a stretch class one morning and pilates another morning and a lot of walking. I ought to do more in London but there’s never enough time. I don’t drink or smoke though – and most of my close friends don’t either.

I was a very boring, hard-working girl at school. I didn’t particularly want to go out or rebel.

The only time I am really going to notice that I’m old is when there’s nobody there to look after me. I think I’ll go to Switzerland and just disappear. Do I want to rot somewhere? I don’t know. I’ve seen what happens to other people. But in general, I don’t think about death yet. I’m too busy. If you keep working at the rate I do, you don’t even notice yourself getting old. It’s funny – you just get there. And I am certainly not going to try to turn back the clock. I see lots of women who looked really fabulous at 40 suddenly deciding that they need fish lips and fillers. They don’t look younger, they just turn into something else. I wouldn’t touch plastic surgery. I don’t even wash my make up off at night. And if I am running late, I just put make up on top of makeup.

One of the most important life lessons I’ve learned is that there’s no point having regrets. If you have regrets you live in the past and don’t move forward in other ways. My life motto? Never give up. Live life to the best of your ability.

Zandra’s 50 year retrospective opens to the public on the 27th of September at the Fashion and Textile Museum

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