Designers Dame Zandra Rhodes and Celia B on colour, dressing up and their beautiful new capsule collection

Our fashion editor pays a visit to the famous Rainbow Penthouse

Celia B x Zandra Rhodes
(Image credit: Bella Howard)

Walking into Dame Zandra Rhodes’ Rainbow Penthouse, I almost forget it is winter in London. It is a cold, grey day in January and I have been invited to the iconic British designer’s multicoloured studio on Bermondsey Street (atop the Fashion & Textile Museum, which she founded) for a top-secret appointment. I am to get a glimpse at Rhodes’ upcoming collection with Spanish designer, Celia Bernardo of the eponymous brand, Celia B, and interview the designers.

There is no inch of the penthouse that isn’t flushed with riotous colour, from the rainbow-swirled floor to the ombre citrus walls, not to mention all of Rhodes’ technicolour art and artefacts, from maximalist lamps to giant letter Zs. My eyes are immediately drawn to four rails filled with pop-bright dresses, including a zingy, zig-zag mini, a beaded, crochet maxi and a dazzling, sequinned gown, which form the carefully curated collection of maximalist-wear magicked up by Rhodes and Bernardo.

Having dreamed about those technicolour dresses since January (oh, the fashion editor’s agony at seeing collections months before they actually hit the shelves), I am happy to report that the Zandra Rhodes x Celia B summer capsule launches in just a few days, on Saturday 5th June, and I can finally share my conversation with the designers.

‘Having a collaboration [with Zandra] is incredible,’ says Bernardo, wearing the ZR dress from the collection – a fully sequinned number covered in Rhodes’ iconic Button Flower print and trimmed with flouncy ruffles (a Celia B signature). ‘Zandra has been an inspiration since I started my career.’ She’s wearing opaque tights and pink, glitter-encrusted boots, and I’ve never wanted to steal someone’s entire outfit more.

‘You only have to look at Celia’s [creations] and they make you feel happy,’ says Rhodes, whose vibrant Maryann dress seems to make her trademark, hot-pink hair and blue eyeshadow even more luminous. Beneath the dress’s ruffled tiers peep swirl-print socks and gold ballet flats. I can’t keep my eyes off her.

Celia B x Zandra Rhodes

(Image credit: Bella Howard)

The collab feels like the perfect fit, given Rhodes and Bernardo’s mutual love of colour and print. They tell me they began the creative process by pinning pictures onto Rhodes’ studio wall, selecting some of the British designer’s most loved prints (including the aforementioned Button Flower) and working out which Celia B dress silhouettes would be a good fit for each. ‘We made such instant decisions,’ says Rhodes, speaking to their immediate synchronicity.

The designers’ appreciation of colour is reflected not only in their creations, but in their personal style.

‘I started loving colour more as I developed my career and my own brand,’ says Bernardo. ‘When I see pictures of me before I started to design my own clothes, I wasn't so colourful. I had colourful things, I’ve always loved vintage and '70s style, but I think [my love of colour is] something that I developed with my work.’

‘I've always been attracted to colour,’ says Rhodes. ‘One of my earliest [pieces of clothing] was this lovely blue Dirndl skirt with printed fish on it.’

‘We have to preserve colours, we cannot all be dressed the same way,’ says Bernardo. ‘And I get so much joy wearing colour. I think it's a pity for people to miss out on or be afraid of that. I think it’s important to live surrounded by beauty and colours.’

‘I get on the tube and think, there's only one person with a piece of red,’ says Rhodes. ‘There’s maybe one navy blue sweater, the rest is grey and black. If I wore black, I'd feel boring.’

Rhodes is never without a pop of colour, not least because of her neon-pink hair.

‘I tried on coloured wigs when Vidal brought [them] out,’ says Rhodes. ‘Then I thought, "You know what? If you can dye sheep's wool, why can't you dye hair?" I originally went to Vidal Sassoon and they wouldn't bleach my hair because it was originally [dark]. And then I went to Leonard [of Mayfair] and we started all the experimentation with my hair starting with Daniel [Galvin], who's now got his own salon. Then John Frieda did my hair, and then Trevor Sorbie. And my hair went pink. Pink's very easy to keep.’

You can be the life and soul of the party in these.

Dame Zandra Rhodes

‘You can be the life and soul of the party in these,’ she continues, gesturing at the pieces in the collection. It’s true, there are some excellent party dresses here, from the ruffle-sleeved Lou mini to the aforementioned paillette gown, as well as a whole host of pretty, printed frocks that I immediately want to bring with me on a summer holiday.

‘I think nowadays you can really mix and match,’ says Bernardo, who is no stranger to a daytime sequin. ‘I have sequin skirts that I wear with a sweatshirt and sneakers.’

Zandra Rhodes and Celia B

(Image credit: Bella Howard)

‘I think dressing up is a compliment to people that you are with,’ says Rhodes. ‘And really, you feel good if you dress up.’

One of Rhodes’ enduring inspirations is her late mother, Beatrice, who was a fitter at Parisian couturier, Worth. ‘My mother was very exotic,’ she says. ‘She was so exotic, I’d say, “You look different from all the other mothers when you come to school.” She was amazing. It’s sad because she would’ve loved all of this. She would’ve probably been dressed up in it.’

‘I think one has to be a bit daring to keep your life feeling wonderful,’ she continues. I couldn’t agree more.

The Zandra Rhodes x Celia B Summer 2024 collection will available from 1st June 2024 at www.celiab.com and in selected retailers.

Fashion Editor

Natalie Hughes is Fashion Editor at Marie Claire UK. She has worked as a fashion journalist and content consultant for 16 years, crafting copy and content for magazines and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Net-a-Porter, Who What Wear, Matches, Glamour, and more.