English designer Zandra Rhodes lends her flair to latest Fluevog footwear collection

Zandra Rhodes isn’t a household name in Canada, but in England she’s tops: Rhodes has…

English designer Zandra Rhodes lends her flair to latest Fluevog footwear collection

Zandra Rhodes isn’t a household name in Canada, but in England she’s tops: Rhodes has designed garments for Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury and is an actual Dame. 

In fact, she was chosen as one of seven dames to ride down The Mall —  the road connecting Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square  — in a vintage Jaguar as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant on June 5.

“It was a great honour,” Rhodes told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko during her recent trip to Vancouver. 

Now, she and Vancouver designer John Fluevog have teamed up on a new collection of shoes featuring bold designs and feminine details. 

The pair sat down for an interview with CBC Radio ahead of the launch of the collection, which went live on June 10. 

Celebrity designer Zandra Rhodes pairs up with Vancouver shoemaker John Fluevog

Zandra Rhodes has designed clothes for celebrities from Freddy Mercury to Princess Diana. Now, she’s in B.C. to launch a new collaborative footwear collection with Vancouver shoemaker John Fluevog.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did this all come about? When did you know you wanted to work with Dame Zandra Rhodes? 

Fluevog: Well, it was a process, like all things are. I think I got connected first through her publicist. We started to look at the history of how long she’s been doing what she’s been doing. I think she started in 69 or 68, and I started in 1970 here in Vancouver’s Gastown.

We have kind of a lot in common; we’ve lived through a lot of similar eras and similar times and probably sold to similar customers. And she’s still independent. I’ve stayed independent. And we just have a lot of energy and vibe that’s similar. And it’s been just a great partnership. 

The Fluevog X Zandra Rhodes Collection was released June 10, 2022. (Provided by Fluevog Shoes)

What is it about John Fluevog’s designs that appealed to you? 

Rhodes: John’s shoes are forever shoes. They’re not a fashion statement that goes out [of style]. My first pair of Fluevogs was stolen. I was in New York … and I bought this wonderful pair of green suede shoes. I pranced around in them proudly with my green velvet suit. And then I took them back to London, and then I had a robbery, and the door was locked, and they couldn’t get through, and they had to escape through a window. It was Christmas. They took my shoes because they could manage those. For ever since, Fluevog is a wonderful memory, and it was joy when we teamed up. 

Your hair matches the fuchsia ribbon on that pair of shoes. Describe that creation for me. 

Rhodes: This is an incredible black munster with lovely wiggly, wiggly soles. And then John has had, his team have, put wiggle in little stitches all over the whole thing. And it’s got a wiggly buckle, and it’s got a strap across it, with a gorgeous pink pleated frill around it. 

Designers Zandra Rhodes and John Fluevog have been working in fashion for more than 50 years. (Provided by Fluevog Shoes)

Do you think about the whole outfit when you’re designing, or do you just think of what’s on your feet?

Fluevog: It’s a simple answer. It’s all about the shoes 

What went into this collaboration? 

Fluevog:  It was during the pandemic, and we did do it over Zoom. It’s very important to me that there’s synergy there and that we’re both feeling the same thing because I don’t want to get down the road a little bit on something and that person is going, ‘Oh no, that’s not what I was thinking, I don’t want to do this’ or ‘it’s all about me.’ If we start liking the way it feels … we sort of carry on. 

Rhodes: You know, yesterday I wore these fabulous boots where John’s not only got my print over the toes and on the heels, but he’s also done a special jacquard wiggly weave in the whole thing. So they’re dramatic, practical boots, but they take you into another fantasy world. 

So talk to me a little bit more about the textiles, about what goes into your creative process. 

Rhodes: John’s team would show us what they were thinking of. And then we’d supply some more slightly smaller prints so that the designs would go into the size of a shoe. And then with my team, I always say, if you wouldn’t wear it, then that’s not right for the design. So you’ve got to look at it and say, yes, I really would like to be wearing that. I mean, his shoes are made to be both on pedestals and worn. 

Dame Zandra Rhodes models her latest creation in collaboration with John Fluevog: the Ruffle Lady Miss. (Provided by Fluevog Shoes)

You wore them at a very public occasion recently  — the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. What was that whole experience like? 

Rhodes: It was wonderful. The Queen must get very tired, waving, you know, because I definitely waved at the crowds as I was going along. 

Did you practise your wave? 

Rhodes:  I practised my wave. And then I have my hat, and I pray that it wouldn’t rain like it has today. Lovely blue hat with white flowers and a red plume. And then I have my red jumpsuit on, so I felt gorgeous for the day. 

Zandra, you’re 81 years old. You’ve been designing since the 60s. How has your attitude toward fashion changed over the years? 

Rhodes: I don’t know that it necessarily has. I mean, the difference would be you wouldn’t catch me in a miniskirt. You know, I generally tend to wear trousers most of the time. But I mean, I could wear longish dresses, or I’d wear dresses like tunics with trousers, and most of the time I wouldn’t wear things that are terribly high. But the thing that’s so clever about the Fluevog shoes is that they’re very practical. You’ve got a lot to stand on. No, you’re not going to wobble around. So it’s not going to matter about your age. I think it’s terribly important. 

Do you think about things like that when you’re designing? 

Fluevog: I think about making people feel good. I started out in 1970, and my customers were all 18 to 22. I was in that youth market for a long time. And as I have still been in business, my customers have gotten older. My first reaction was sort of like, hang on, wait a minute, John, you’re getting older. And not only that, people don’t change. So people still want to feel good. They want to look good. They want to look cute. Your feet don’t change much. You can always wear a cute pair of shoes.