Dame Zandra Rhodes collaborated with Freddie Mercury for his famous, white silk, pleated wing top! This gorgeous outfit would help define Freddie’s image and became a signature piece.

In 1974, Zandra Rhodes hadn’t heard of the band Queen….

I got a phone call in the early 1970s, while I was working in my funny little studio in an attic in Bayswater. It was Freddie Mercury, saying that he would like to come by and look at some clothes. Queen had a hit single at that time, which all my girls who were working for me in my studio knew about, but I didn’t. I had to ask them who he was! It was long before ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or anything like that. My little attic was just full of sewing machines and rails – there was no changing room or anything like that. So I said to Freddie and Brian [May], ‘why don’t you come round in the evening when no one else is here?’ So it was just the three of us, and I got them to try things that were on the rails – it was just what I already had hanging there.

At the time, Rhodes had a small operation in London’s Paddington neighborhood but was fast becoming one of the foremost designers of romantic, colorful frocks in the world. She’d already dressed the likes of Lauren Bacall and Liz Taylor.

“They came around to my [London studio] at around 6pm one evening, clattering up three flights of stairs in their platform boots. . Freddie was a free spirit, so for him, coming to a person who usually designs women’s clothes didn’t really matter. I don’t think he thought of androgyny – he was just a free spirit who wanted to look wonderful.”

Queen and Zandra Rhodes hit it off immediately and the flamboyant items they discovered among her designs would define the band’s iconic image.

“There were rails and rails of all my designs and I told them to pick what they like and to try it on. I wanted them to run around the room and jump around and just see how it felt, how it would feel onstage.” Mercury went straight for a cape shirt in heavy ivory silk that had an embroidered bodice and giant pleated butterfly sleeves. “It was the top of a wedding dress idea I had,” Rhodes recalls. “It came with a matching skirt and I’d designed both pieces during what I like to call my ‘Field of Lilies’ period. So I said to Freddie ‘move around the room and look in the mirror see how you feel, and if it’ll work for you whilst you’re on stage.’ But really, we didn’t have much of a conversation about it – his movements said it all.

The look was really inspired by my model at the time, Tina Chow, and drawings of lilies I’d done while visiting Japan.” She adds, “that was the original, I did some sketches for them and we agreed on these pleated ‘winged’ designs in heavy white satin with quilting at the chest instead of the embroidery.” I had them made up, I finished them off and then I had them delivered. I obviously charged them, but I can’t remember how much. He and Brian were lovely, very discreet and charming.”

I’d made clothes for Marc Bolan – it was a green jersey top, and there’s a video of him wearing it. But Freddie was the second man that I had provided my work for. I had never thought about it being a unisex design – it was just that he had tried on that top and it felt right for him.

They gave me tickets to go and see them perform she says, “and to see Freddie on stage wearing that outfit really was quite wonderful. It was absolutely packed in there and it was some show!”

Zandra Rhodes, who has long been regarded as one of the world’s top fashion designers, now looks back on her collaboration with one of the UK’s greatest bands with pride.

“It wasn’t really until Freddie died that the relationship built up between myself and Brian and the fans,” she says. “Fans have always wanted me to sign the picture of Freddie in his famous pleated top. I really feel complemented that it’s always the one I’m signing in Queen’s catalogue.

“Queen were very genuine people. They produced their own sounds in the same way they controlled their image.”

“The thing that’s so fabulous, is that Freddie in my white pleated top went on to become one of the iconic images of him. It’s incredible to be part of that history. I feel very lucky I was part of that image and it’s a part of my repertoire!”

Interview with Dame Zandra Rhodes
October 2018

Pictures of Freddie Mercury in his elegant new white outfit opening Queen’s landmark gig, Live At The Rainbow – March 31, 1974

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