A new exhibition at London’s Old Truman Brewery celebrates the 40th birthday of music-heroes Queen, in all their glamorous, innovative and boundary-pushing glory.
Once described as “the most preposterous band that’s ever lived”, Queen was the iconic British rock act that took over the world. With a unique and experimental approach to progressive rock, the group produced an array of era-defining anthems including crowd-pleasers ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘We Are The Champions’ and the enduringly popular monster of a hit ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ Forming in 1971, Queen’s flamboyant front man Freddie Mercury helped pioneer Glam Rock style, wearing everything from monochrome lycra cat suits to platform shoes and feather boas.
Now, to mark the band’s 40th birthday and the 20th anniversary of Mercury’s death, The Old Truman Brewery is hosting a major exhibition celebrating all things Queen. This unique global event is the first of its kind and charts the band’s early years, from their days selling clothes at Kensington Market to their world-famous free gig in Hyde Park in 1976, where they played to a crowd of over 150,000 fans. ‘Stormtroopers in Stilettos’ gives visitors a one-off experience with key items on display, including Roger Taylor’s original drum kit, Freddie Mercury’s ballet pumps and the iconic angelic winged tops, specially made for the band by legendary British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. From rare film footage and photography to displays of the band’s artwork, this exhibition is a must for any die-hard Queen fan.
i-D Online caught up with Zandra Rhodes to find out what it was like to design stage-outfits for one of the most important and influential bands in music history.
How did your collaboration with Queen first come about? I just got a phone call from Freddie totally out of the blue asking if I’d be interested in designing some outfits for him. I’d been doing the clothes for Marc Bolan from T-Rex and maybe Freddie Mercury had seen them, as he was very clothes-aware. When he first came to me I didn’t even know what their music was like.
What were you up to at the time? I was working on my own in Porchester Road in London. I had a small studio there.
What was the design process? I got Freddie to come round in the evenings because I didn’t make men’s clothes so I’d get a top and try it on him, getting him to look in the mirror and move around. I asked him “how do you want to move around the stage? Will you feel good in it?” It was a joint effort to see how he felt in the different things. We made Brian a pleated outfit, but it was stolen and we had to re-make it. It was rather nice that he wanted a second one.
What did it feel like to see your designs on stage? It’s always wonderful seeing things on stage. I think it was very early for the men’s style of the time, you had David Bowie and glam rock. It was very exciting to be part of it. In terms of his personal style, Freddie was like a chrysalis, continually emerging into different things.
How did working with Queen compliment your own career at the time? Funnily enough it was never mentioned, I didn’t even find any press on it until years later when it went into the Queen calendar, a collectors item. That was when I had their fans queueing up asking for my signature.
Do you think they’ve had a strong influence on British fashion? I think their influence is more in the incredible way they developed their music. I think it was about the route they took with their music, and how it links up to fashion.
What’s your favourite Queen track? I do love ‘Barcelona’. I love the way it expands, it’s like a giant firework going up with all sort of bits included in it. It’s quite an amazing record.
‘Stormtroopers in Stilettos’ takes place at the Old Truman Brewery until 12 March 2011.