Legendary designer ZANDRA RHODES describes growing up in the estuary town of Chatham, Kent, and how the North Downs landscape has stayed with her throughout life. Interview by Alex Reece.
I grew up in Chatham on the Medway Estuary. It was a naval town but I never thought of it as coastal. I was more aware of my home looking across the North Downs. For beaches, we’d go to Herne Bay (pictured) or Camber Sands. And, when I was 10, we got a car, and we’d spend holidays at Seasalter and Leysdown-on-Sea.
My main attachment to the Kent coastline came when I was 17 to 19. I’d get the bus from Gillingham along the side of the Thames Estuary, where there are wonderful mudﬂats and little orchards – I used to go drawing there. Another ride I liked going on, because I had a boyfriend who had a car, was to the Isle of Grain. It went on a long zigzag road through what I call ‘Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations land’.
Today, I divide my time between London and San Diego. San Diego is the largest natural harbour on the west coast of America. It’s also a naval town. Normally, I ﬂy backwards and forwards, it used to be once a month, but I have a much older partner, who at one time was the president of Warner Brothers, and lately I haven’t travelled quite so much.
We’re in Del Mar, and our home is actually on the beach. But the funny thing is, the Paciﬁc is colder than the Atlantic, so I only go in once a year.
My studio is about a mile away in a place called Solana Beach, and it’s a long studio with skylights so I can’t see the sea from there. But I do see it at the weekends when a group of us go walking in the Torrey Pines Park, which is magical. It’s technically California chaparral, so you’ve got wonderful wildﬂowers, and we go along the equivalent of the North Downs.
The plants that grow on the Downs have been a big inﬂuence on my life. If you’ve been on the North Downs by Dover, you’ll see they have a different type of plantlife there – it’s so exquisite.
For details of Zandra Rhodes’ latest collections and collaborations (with People Tree and Westminster Fabrics, among others), see zandrarhodes.com.
"My main attachment to the Kent coastline came when I was 17 to 19. I’d get the bus from Gillingham along the side of the Thames Estuary, where there are wonderful mudﬂats and little orchards – I used to go drawing there."