Rodarte's Extensive New Fashion Exhibit Emphasizes the DNA of the Brand

Sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy's signature dreamlike femininity is on display at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
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"Rodarte" exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Photo: Floto+Warner/Courtesy of Rodarte

"Rodarte" exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Photo: Floto+Warner/Courtesy of Rodarte

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C. will unveil its first-ever fashion exhibition honoring the work of sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte. The curated collection, aptly and succinctly titled "Rodarte," will be on full display at the museum from this Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018 through Feb. 10, 2019. The show highlights a staggering 90 looks, spanning the 13 years since the brand debuted in 2005.

NMWA elected to feature the fanciful luxury fashion house for "the designers' visionary concepts, impeccable craftsmanship and profound impact on the fashion industry." Since its inception, the museum has advocated for representation of women in the arts and has also championed the work of Rodarte, a label that has prominently thrived in a "an industry that is geared toward, but often not led by women," asserted NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. 

The NMWA is the only museum of its kind dedicated exclusively to "celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts." As Sterling explains, "Rodarte continually prompts a dialogue between the worlds of contemporary art and fashion. This exhibit will continue that discussion with new insights illustrating the Mulleavy sisters' highly creative practice and sources of inspiration."

Photo: Floto+Warner/Courtesy of Rodarte

Photo: Floto+Warner/Courtesy of Rodarte

Segmented into eight themes, the exhibit reflects Kate and Laura's perpetual fascination with nature, science and horror, as well as contemporary feminism and how the aforementioned themes mingle together. "When they talk about feminism, they talk about being independent women," alludes Jill D'Alessandro, guest curator, who spent a lot of preparatory time with the sisters refining the object list. 

"We went large and then we narrowed it down," says D'Alessandro. "One of the things I thought was really interesting was that a lot of what they wanted to convey were pieces that had real personal resonance. Narrative is so important in their body of work. Their collections and their designs are all very deeply personal. I love this quote from Kate where she said, 'So much of it is based on abstracted childhood memories.' I think that they were trying to relay the DNA of Rodarte. They talked about creating a dreamlike atmosphere or a modern interpretation of femininity."

The exhibit accentuates the unique materiality and unconventional, couture-like techniques in each Rodarte design. The sisters project a masterful intersection of hard edge and feminine lines, a theme that runs parallel to dichotomies prevalent in nature. Kate and Laura's West Coast roots and deep connection to the outdoors are uncovered in the "Northern California Roadmap" presentation, the ornate garden room and the Vincent van Gogh-inspired looks from the label's memorable Spring 2012 collection.

Photo: Floto+Warner/Courtesy of Rodarte

Photo: Floto+Warner/Courtesy of Rodarte

In addition to Rodarte's signature runway looks, visitors will also have an opportunity to see Kate and Laura's renowned Edgar Degas-inspired ballet costumes worn by actress Natalie Portman in the Academy Award-winning film "Black Swan." Dresses from "Woodshock," the first film written and directed by the designers and featuring actress Kirsten Dunst, are also provocatively displayed to reflect the primary character's unraveling emotional state. 

In conjunction with the museum showing, NMWA has a full line-up of activities that will be available to the general public, along with an exclusive merchandise collection: NMWA collaborated with Kate and Laura, illustrator Jess Rotter and global art e-commerce site Third Drawer Down to create a set of paper dolls ($38), notebooks ($10) and other items featuring Rodarte designs, which will be available exclusively at NMWA and online later this month at Shop.NMWA.org.

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