All Rhodes to London

This summer, there was a very strange vehicle on the roads north of London: an enormous bicycle-powered procession of dancers, musicians and actors, at the head of which will be a six-metre high mechanical puppet.

It’s all part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the cultural programme of the London Olympics. Called Godiva Awakes, the puppet represents Lady Godiva, the medieval noblewoman who, according to legend, rode naked on horseback through the city of Coventry as a protest against taxation.

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Both Zandra Rhodes and Make have collaborated on this rather unorthodox project. The former as designer of the puppet’s clothing, and the latter as architects of the structure in which the puppet will be housed after the Games.

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For Zandra, it’s yet another design that will reinforce her reputation as something of a maverick. The daughter of a truck driver, she was the brightest talent in a new wave of London-based designers who took Britain to the forefront of the international fashion scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Her work – edgy, impulsive and overtly feminine – was to define the era. Her trademark innovations such as jewelled safety pins, denim tears and exposed seams, earned her the popular epithet the ‘Princess of Punk.’One fan – and client – was soul singer Diana Ross. “Diana looked magnificent in my red chiffon and pleated jackets,” Zandra remembers. “She’d invite me as a VIP to her shows. It was wonderful.”

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Zandra later worked with Freddie Mercury and Brian May of rock band Queen on their live show costumes. “They’d come to my studio in the evenings and we’d exchange ideas. I never knew them too well because they were always off on tour, and I didn’t have the time to be a groupie,” she jokes.

By the 1980s, Zandra was a global fashion icon. But she was still taken by surprise when another Diana, this time the Princess of Wales, came knocking on her door.

“I remember we both wanted to have a huge slit up one side of her dress, but she said she couldn’t possibly do so because the paparazzi would try to take pictures of her knickers as soon as she got out of the car.”

Zandra’s list of past clients might already read like a who’s who of popular culture, but she still harbours ambitions to work alongside one further star in particular. “Oh, Lady Gaga is great,” asserts Zandra. “There’d be a synergy between her and me. We’d create something spectacular.”

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