Zandra Rhodes: ‘There’s nothing like a pot or a fantastic piece of china’
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I see pottery as an art form, just as I believe that printed textiles are an art form. You can say it’s a craft, but as much goes into making a printed textile that you’re going to cut up and wear, or a wallpaper that you’re going to put on the wall, as a sculpture or a painting. I think they’re equally important. I’m proud to say I’m a textile designer; I don’t want to say I’m doing textile design, but I’m really a painter – that is not the same thing.
I started collecting pottery 40 or 50 years ago because I couldn’t afford to collect paintings. I’d go to the Royal College of Art show at the end of the year and discover these amazing ceramic artists from right when they started. The two I’ve collected are Carol McNicoll and Kate Malone. Peter Blake had commissioned Carol’s Alice in Wonderland tea service, and Kate’s a really big star in the collector’s world now, but I think I was probably one of her very earliest collectors. When Carol was in her final year at the Royal College, I commissioned a whole dinner service from her.
I still buy straight from them. I’ve the dinner service by Carol – at least 60 parts – and I’ve got the tea services, another dinner service and a whole “padded” dinner service. It’s not actually padded: there’s a main plate, which is like a big quilted square with a fringe around it, and then side plates, which are shaped like padded cushions. I use them for special occasions. I did a charity tea party and used Carol’s fabulous teapots – a squashed one and another with a rose and chain on it, and one with three spouts. I also have the most gorgeous jugs from Kate that she encrusts with weird shells and knobs and lumps.
I have them all on display in my home. Downstairs I’ve got a library with a collection of teapots on the shelves. There’s also a yellow shelving unit with cut-out shelves that is based on the Islamic tradition for cut‑out shelves with different things in them. You can see them in Fatehpur Sikri, a deserted town on the way to Agra, between Delhi and Jaipur. So the plates hang there, and Kate’s vases are just all around my penthouse looking gorgeous. But I use my collection, so sadly things get chipped and the potters have to be very understanding. I phone them up crying if I break something.
I’ve also got lovely Portuguese ceramics – little soup dishes that are like cabbages, a tureen shaped like a big cabbage and a cabbage salad bowl that I bought in an odds-and-ends shop in San Diego.
I get a lot of pleasure in putting odd things together. In the middle of my dining table I have a collection of stones and pebbles. Wherever I go, I collect a stone or a pebble and I put those in the middle of the table, then I add little tiny baby bud vases. Entertaining is, for me, my time off from my work. So it’s wonderful when I can turn my table into something different.
If I have a lovely vase containing flowers, I might draw the flowers and perhaps they might end up as a textile design. There’s nothing like a pot or a fantastic piece of china on your table or on display. It’s a talking point, and it makes life interesting.
The Fashion and Textile Museum, which was founded by Zandra Rhodes, reopens on 1 October 2021, with the exhibition Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture. Tickets available now at ftmlondon.org
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