British Women Designers 1970s-1990s
If Joy could be a garment, it would surely be designed by Dame Zandra Rhodes! The British designer celebrated 50 years in fashion in 2020. Fashion was always in her blood, as her mother was a fitter at the House of Worth in Paris before becoming a lecturer in fashion at Medway College of Art, where Zandra eventually studied textile design. She continued her studies at the Royal College of Art in London, graduating in 1964. She and her boyfriend Alexander McIntyre opened a screen printing design studio, and later she collaborated with friend Sylvia Ayton to open a boutique for their clothing designs. At the end of the 60s, Rhodes produced her first solo collection and sold pieces to Henri Bendel in New York, however her pieces were so avant garde it was difficult to get in the door at other boutiques. Soon after she was featured in Vogue which helped convince boutiques that she was onto something!
While her designs were wild and whimsical, tapping into youth and counter culture, she was soon adopted into the world of celebrity and royalty. She designed dresses for Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Natalie Wood, Freddie Mercury, and Princess Diana wore her pieces on many occasions! Her pieces were elaborate, with construction that focused on accommodating placement of the prints, opting for more simple silhouettes that could be embellished.
She has also designed for operas and added home textiles to her name as well. In 2003 she founded the London Textile Museum, which she also lives above! Designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta, it’s painted vibrant orange and pink!
In 2014, she was bestowed the Dame Commander of the British Empire status by the Queen. She is still designing today at 81 years old!
Check out our blurb about her contribution to punk fashion in our punk centred blog post HERE.
Betty was born in Lancashire in 1949. She was awarded an MBE in 1987 and later a CBE in 2007 for her contributions to British fashion. She is well known for creating the outfits of Edina and Patsy on the 1990s television show Absolutely Fabulous.
Life started out tough for Betty when her leg was amputated at the age of six following complications from birth. A car accident later caused further complications. However, it didn’t stop her from studying fashion in Birmingham under Zandra Rhodes.
She started her fashion career as an illustrator in 1971, and became a design assistant to Wendy Dagworthy in 1973. Soon she was designing for Ossie Clark and then Coopers before setting up her own label.
In 1981, she met her husband David Cohen, and they set up their company, Betty Jackson Ltd.
Offering sophisticated design solutions exemplified by a play on proportion and using fine art derived prints as visual highlights, Betty created a design vocabulary that is enduring and instantly recognizable.
Brian Bolger of the design collective The Cloth did the textile prints for an iconic 1985 Betty Jackson collection.
Her 1980s designs often drew influence from Victorian fashion.
She won British Designer of the Year in 1985.
Her first storefront was opened in 1991 in London.
In her later career she designed for Marks & Spencers and Debenhams department stores.
She was an advisor on the British Fashion Council’s Model Health Inquiry in the late 2000s after two models died from eating disorders amidst the size zero epidemic.
She has been a patron of the charity Smartworks since 2009, which helps to style disadvantaged women to regain their footing in the workplace.
She is also on the Board of Trustees for Intoart, a visual arts charity based in working with adults and young artists with learning disabilities.
Her son is actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
Wendy Dagworthy was born in Kent in 1950.
After studying fashion, she took a job with the wholesale company Radley. She was also creating her own designs and selling to London stores by age 22. Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music was one of her early supporters and she designed some of the bands stage costumes.
She established her own label in 1972 and operated the business out of her apartment. Betty Jackson was her first assistant. As the business grew, she was able to take on a studio in Soho, London.
The Wendy Dagworthy label's trademark style was loose and unstructured, with a focus on natural fibres and textures, such as wool, mohair and wool barathea, and details such as detachable hoods and double pockets. Clothes combined bright patterns and colours, including florals, stripes and batik prints in shades such as scarlet and orange. The label was also known for its use of Liberty prints. Signature garments included circular skirts, oversized wool coats and wide cropped jackets. According to Dagworthy, the inspirations for her designs included menswear, workwear, ethnic clothing and the detailing found on shirts.
By the early 80s, almost half of Wendy Dagworthy output went to Italy. She became acknowledged as one of the key players in the London fashion scene, alongside her former assistant Betty Jackson as well as Jasper Conran, Paul Smith and Katharine Hamnett.
However, in the midst of a recession, her company went into liquidation in 1988. She continued work in fashion as a design consultant.
In 1989 she joined the staff of Central Saint Martins as head of fashion. During her nine-year tenure, she helped to train designers such as Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Inacio Ribeiro (Clements Ribeiro).
She was instrumental in the founding of London Fashion Week and became a member of the British Fashion Council in 1996.
She joined the Royal College of Arts in 1998 and became the head of fashion there in 2011. She was appointed an OBE the same year.
An 80s icon, one of the pioneers of modern British fashion, the inventor of the slogan T-shirt and an early advocate for organic cotton and sustainability in fashion.
She was born in 1947 and studied fashion at Central Saint Martin’s in London. She partnered with a friend after graduation to form Tuttabankem, which lasted 5 years. She then worked freelance all over the world before launching her own label in 1979.
In the early 80s, she became famous for printing political messages in block type on oversized t-shirts. One of the most famous was the CHOOSE LIFE shirt worn by members of Wham! The slogan was a comment against war, death and destruction. Hamnett has spoken out against anti-abortion activists using her t-shirts.
CHOOSE LIFE was soon followed by EDUCATION NOT MISSILES, WORLDWIDE NUCLEAR BAN NOW, PEACE, SAVE THE WORLD, YOU – ME, SAVE THE SEA, CLEAN UP OR DIE, and SAVE THE FUTURE.
Roger Taylor of Queen wore the "WORLDWIDE NUCLEAR BAN NOW" shirt during Queen's historic appearance at the first edition of the Rock in Rio festival in Brazil.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood designed their series of iconic ‘Frankie Says’ T-shirts based on Katharine’s designs.
The 58% DON’T WANT PERSHING t-shirt that Katharine wore to meet British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a bold political act that made front page news around the world.
Hamnett was also involved in the founding of Tanya Sarne’s Ghost label in 1984.
Beginning in 1989, with research showing pesticide poisoning in cotton-growing regions, and sweatshop labour a major part of the textiles industry, Hamnett began lobbying for major changes in the way the industry operated. After disappointment with the results, Hamnett terminated most of her licensing arrangements, and in 2005 relaunched her line under stricter ethical guidelines, including manufacturing and agricultural practices. She also began to focus more on collaborations with charities.
Hamnett won the first ever British Fashion Awards, and in 1996, was voted Britain's favourite designer by readers of Cosmopolitan. Hamnett was appointed a CBE in 2011 for services to the fashion industry.