Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte are fashion’s most famous sisters. From their nearly telepathic communication with each other, to their unusually intimate inspiration, the Mulleavys have built a Rodarte cult including fashion’s most elite and influential.
Last night at FIT, Kate and Laura spoke at length about their brand. Hearing them talk about their transformation from two sisters without fashion training to one of fashion’s most artistic duos was like watching a 21st century My Fair Lady with Karen Elson in Audrey Hepburn’s place.
The back story’s familiar by now: The girls sat at home watching horror movies, made ten pieces, took a trip to New York, slept of a friend’s couch, sent out hand-drawn notes, made some phone calls, and heard from WWD. They made the cover, Anna Wintour dropped by their studio two days later and their Spring 2008 collection rocked New York Fashion Week two years later.
It sounds like a fantasy, but what else would you expect from fashion’s most fantastical designers?
Even now, Rodarte functions outside the realm of modern fashion. Kate and Laura sew and make most of their garments by hand with the help of their dedicated creative team. It took three months to find the perfect dying process for their AW08 Japanime blood and water collection, and a week to manufacture the tights alone.
But it’s not just the craftsmanship, the girls are probably better known for their artistic process. They insist it’s not art but say they hope each collection engages their audience and communicates ideas ranging from creation myths to Mexican border towns to the endangered California Condor (that’d be SS10).
Kate says they ignore commercialism. The number of jackets or pants or the practicality of the garment is irrelevant which makes Rodarte feel like an art project whose medium is fashion design.
The art world appears to agree. Rodarte was only the second fashion label to be featured in ArtForum (Issey Miyake, 1984). Their expressionist qualities are more reminiscent of de Kooning or Degas than the Pop Art model that brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Dior embrace.
While many labels try to fit in to the molds made by already famous brands, Rodarte seeks to stand out, relying only on their creative talent for success. Their niche market is willing to spend the money on the pieces because they are unlike anything ever before created. A dress is a dress, but a Rodarte piece is one of a kind, and dare we say it, museum worthy.