MAD LOOT and Zandra Rhodes are Landing on Columbus Circle

Photographed by GENE NOCON

“You can still call me Zandra,” says fashion designer Zandra Rhodes when asked how one addresses someone who has been named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. “I mean, if you want to, say ‘Dame Zandra,’ but you don’t have to,” the fashion designer added, laughing. Rhodes is delighted that she’s been named the honorary chair of the Museum of Arts and Design’s LOOT: Mad About Jewelry benefit gala, to be held on April 3.

The exhibition and sale, which runs from April 4 to April 8, features the work of 54 cutting-edge art jewelry designers. The pink-haired fashion icon considers jewelry her main accessory, and one of the most important parts of her wardrobe. “I think it always enhances,” she explained. “Whether you don’t particularly like your hands or your arms, if you wear beautiful rings or bracelets it’s always an asset. Put a gorgeous pin on and it’s always a gorgeous talking point—apart from a Zandra Rhodes dress, of course.” The museum setting is appropriate, she adds. “To me, collecting jewelry is equally as important as collecting paintings.”

Rhodes started out in textile design in the 1960s, and went on to build a fashion empire. Princess Diana, Jacqueline Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Harry and Helen Mirren are among the famous folk who have worn her designs. Sarah Jessica Parker wore Zandra Rhodes in Sex and the City, and collectors of her vintage pieces include Tom Ford and Anna Sui.

Known for her dramatic look, Rhodes was one of the new wave of British designers who put London on the fashion map in the 1970s. Her 1977 collection featuring holes and beaded safety pins earned her the moniker, “Princess of Punk.”

Rhodes’ bold, colorful prints have given her garments a timeless quality and strong identity that is still revered today; Valentino tapped her to create all of the textiles for its spring 2017 collection. “I was absolutely thrilled,” Rhodes said. The Valentino team visited her London studio; they liked one of her early lipstick prints, and she turned it into a hearts and daggers pattern.

In addition to turning out her own collections each year, Rhodes has designed costumes and sets for opera companies, as well as lines of jewelry, china, furs and cosmetics.

In 2003, she founded London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, dedicated to showing the work of fashion and textile designers from the 1950s onward. One of the museum’s exhibitions, Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles, that explores her own career, has traveled to museums around the world, including Mexico City, Milan, San Diego and Kuala Lumpur.

Now in its 17th edition, LOOT showcases the vision and craftsmanship of some of the most skilled creators in the field, most of whom have never before shown their work in the U.S. This annual five-day pop-up store is a one-of-a-kind event, offering the public a rare opportunity to meet and acquire pieces directly from these artisans who hail from 21 different countries, from Denmark to Korea. This year for the first time LOOT will feature three artists from Iceland and one from Romania.

The opening gala’s events include a cocktail reception and dinner at the museum, and a first look at the exhibition. Attendees also get the first chance to meet the LOOT artists and to purchase their designs.

Each year the LOOT Award is presented to luminaries in the field, including artists, collectors and designers. Past recipients have included Iris Apfel, collector Barbara Berger and jewelry designer Joan Hornig. This year’s honorees are Camilla Dietz Bergeron, Francine LeFrak, and Kara Ross.

Bergeron, a top dealer in antique, period and estate jewelry, founded her namesake, company after a successful career on Wall Street. After working at Chase Manhattan and Seiden & De Cuevas, Bergeron co-founded her own firm, Furman Selz Mager Dietz & Birney, in 1973. Xerox later bought the partners out, and in 1989, Bergeron established her jewelry firm. “There are many things in life that I wanted to achieve, and being on Wall Street was just one of them,” she says. “I love the challenge of starting something new and watching it grow and blossom.” She currently serves as Co- president of the American Society of Jewelry Historians and is on the board of Vanderbilt University.

LeFrak is a social entrepreneur and women’s empowerment activist who founded Same Sky, a jewelry initiative that provides training and employment to female HIV-positive survivors of the Rwandan genocide.

After having success in Rwanda, Same Sky now employs and empowers women who have recently been released from Hudson County Jail in New Jersey. To date, the organization has served over 150 Rwandan women and hundreds of female ex-offenders in New Jersey. While national rates of recidivism hover close to 70%, Same Sky’s rate of recidivism is 0%.

LeFrak is also the Chair Emerita of the Women’s Leadership Board at the Harvard Kennedy School, which supports and promotes gender equality. She has also had a successful career as a producer on Broadway and television, with Tony, Peabody and Emmy awards to her name. She has received the “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor from the French government, the U.N. Women for Peace Award, and the U.N. Women Together Award for microfinance.

This year’s third honoree, jeweler Kara Ross, who appeared on the cover of AVENUE’s January 2017 Palm Beach issue, launched DIAMONDS UNLEASHED in 2015, a brand that supports empowerment by creating educational and microfinance opportunities for women and girls globally. The brand is currently working on collaborations in children’s wear created by women in South Africa, as well as ready-to-wear and athleisure.

Ross’s fine jewelry is in the collections of museums around the U.S., including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Museum of Arts and Design, where she will be honored.

Ross creates one-of-a-kind pieces for private clients, including President Obama and the First Lady, for whom she designed gifts for visiting heads of state made from magnolia wood that originated on the White House lawn. The collaboration has continued, and she continues to design gifts for esteemed visitors of the White House.