The Fashion and Textile Museum, London, is a vision that only Zandra Rhodes could conceive—architects Ricardo Legorreta and Alan Camp helped her realize it
Susan Welsh -- Interior Design, 8/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
If anyone dreams in color, it's Zandra Rhodes. And she dreams big. What other fashion designer would decide that she absolutely must open a museum to house her collection of 3,000 garments?
Rhodes's Fashion and Textile Museum stands out on its drab London street the way the famously flamboyant Rhodes stands out in a crowd. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta's first European commission, the warehouse conversion is all the more impressive for encompassing not only exhibition space but also Rhodes's apartment, her studio and production rooms, quarters for students and guest curators, a resource center, a café, and a shop. And all 25,000 square feet were completed on $3.5 million, scarcely enough to build a family house in many parts of the city.
On a day of fitful English sun, Rhodes's penthouse seems as bright as a Mexico City plaza, with light streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a wraparound terrace. Rhodes is dressed for work in jeans but—being Zandra Rhodes—she's nonetheless sporting shocking-pink hair with blue topknots, serious eye makeup, and an enormous brooch of blue and green glass. Her day began at 5 AM. (She's designing costumes for the San Diego Opera and filling an urgent order from Barneys New York, not to mention dealing with the issues that arise from living above your own museum.) She's upstairs to get a little peace.
According to Rhodes, the museum's tight budget is the result of her insistence on working with Legorreta + Legorreta rather than holding an architectural competition, as the British government required. "I'd fallen in love with his work and felt that he could do a very monumental building that would be right for our purposes and right for this part of South London," she says. Resolved to soldier on with private funds, she devised a plan to add apartments in back of the building and sell them to pay for the rest of the project. She called in a local firm, Alan Camp Architects, to build eight units and execute Legorreta's original design.
Legorreta's eye for the dynamic balance of color and geometry becomes evident inside as well as out. After passing through a narrow, pink-painted doorway in the orange stucco facade, the visitor enters an electric-blue barrel-vaulted foyer, which frames a view of the first floor's other distinguishing feature: the citrus-yellow balustrade of a stepped ramp that leads to a mezzanine ringing the space.
Camp took Legorreta's design as far as possible with the funds available, and the interior still has the rawness of an experimental theater. For instance, the mezzanine's railings of pipe and wire-mesh panels will, in time, give way to something more solid. "Legorreta is quite pragmatic. He fell into the whole character of what we were doing—being clever with the way we used money," says Camp.
Rhodes's apartment is a work in progress, too, simply because she hasn't settled on the final arrangement of her eclectic furniture and objets. "It's just a shell in happy, rainbow colors," she says of purple, blue, green, orange, and red swaths that run along the floor and spread up the walls of the main living space. For now, several plaster columns from the set of The Rocky Horror Picture Show are ranged around the room. What she laughingly calls her "blackamoors," a pair of brightly painted statues festooned with flowers, stand in one corner. "I've had them about 35 years," she says. "They started out as white-amoors in a friend's garage. He told me, 'If you can take them away, you can have them.'" There are still cardboard boxes in the bedroom, where the pink walls are splashed with a pattern of hot-pink roses. (Rhodes decorated an exercise bike to match.) In the small library, she hasn't yet placed the books on the shelves—she hopes to silver-leaf them. On her terrace is a giant "Aztec carving" in gold-painted Styrofoam.
For now, the museum hums with activity. "I've got a really wonderful, workable building," Rhodes says. "To people in Mexico who don't know about Zandra Rhodes, it looks like Legorreta. For people here who know about Zandra Rhodes, it looks right for Zandra Rhodes."