Fashion icon Zandra Rhodes has designs on Minnesota Opera

For someone who has been at the center of the fashion world for three decades, who has nine honorary doctorates, and holds the rank of Commander of the British Empire, Zandra Rhodes is very approachable.

She also has very pink hair.

Rhodes is one of those people who can pick up a conversation with anyone and soon find a common interest. We chatted away for a while about how she was initially put off when she heard Garrison Keillor reading on the BBC, but now she loves his work.

For the last few days Rhodes has been seeing the sights around downtown St Paul between rehearsals for the Minnesota Opera’s production of Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.”

She designed the sets and the costumes for the show which is set in Sri Lanka. As you might expect from someone who is known for her use of dazzling color, and printed fabrics, it’s a vibrant rainbow of a production with every surface adorned with an image or pattern.

Rhodes, who had just flown in from London where she had been showing her latest clothes at Fashion Week, first tried her hand at opera design in 2001 when the San Diego Opera invited her to do the costumes for “The Magic Flute.” She was asked to return three years later by the San Diego company to do “The Pearl Fishers.” It’s that production which is about to open in St Paul, although Rhodes says she thinks the show and the set and costumes have matured, and look better than ever.

Rhodes was, in a way, born into the design business. Her mother was a fitter for a Paris fashion house, and taught at Medway College of Art in England, where Zandra was later to graduate with a major in printed textile design.

Her wild use of color and pattern was too much for the British fashion establishment, so she went out and set up her own business, and soon became a leading designer during the punk era. She was a favorite of Princess Diana’s, and her creations have been worn by everyone from Jackie Onassis to Paris Hilton.

The designer will be the star attraction of “An Evening with Zandra Rhodes” tomorrow evening at the Ordway.

She will also be one of the featured guests at “Punk and Pearls” a Salon Series presentation which presents elements of “The Pearl Fishers” at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis on Friday evening at 7 and 9pm. Tickets for this event are free, but reservations are required.