For S/S 10, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte summoned up a mythical, battle scarred woman emerging victorious from ashes of being burnt alive, like a Californian condor, that mangled and tattered vulture. If the reference sounds kooky, the collection was anything but, being both powerful and darkly majestic. Painted with tribal tattoos, the models appeared from the fog of dry ice, resembling primitive warriors. This idea of ashes meant the fabrics (leather, silks, cheesecloth, plastic, macramé and cobweb) this season were burnt, shredded, destroyed and utterly ruined until they were remnants of their former selves and then delicately draped and latticed back together again.
With this showing, they further refined the ideas they have been developing over the last few seasons to exquisite results. With no formal background in design, there is a sense of the sisters literally feeling their way through the collection, but in return, creating a visceral response in the viewer. With the recent winning of the Swiss Textile Awards and 2009 CFDA Womenswear Award (not to mention women like Kirsten Dunst and Natalie Portman in their creations and a line for Target due to hit stores in December); it is astonishing that two sisters working in such an insular way in Southern California have been able to translate their vision to the public so completely. Perhaps it has something to do with the compelling, emotional response the clothes provoke.
Dazed Digital: What were some of the reference images for the collection?
Kate and Laura Mulleavy: To start we had fires. Which is strange because Southern California has been in flames for the last 3 weeks. We went on a trip to Death Valley with one of our best friends, Johnson (Hartig of Libertine). It’s an alien landscape and it doesn’t look like anyone’s actually been there. And then imagining this empty house, like what would be left behind. So we imagined this woman who was stranded and mangled and burnt alive, and then being reborn as a Californian condor. What we wanted to say was that this person could tell a story. Their bodies would be a physical transformation, there would be scars everywhere. So that’s where the tattoos on the body come in. And the idea of having hair that looked like it still had ash on it. But still restrained enough that it was not wild. It was just this idea that there was freedom and restraint with it.
DD: Tell us about your experiments with fabric in the collection.
Kate and Laura Mulleavy: The starting point was that we wanted to burn everything. So it started from burning and then we burned the fabrics back and stained it and sandpapered it. We ruined these beautiful textiles and we thought, “it’s not ruined enough!” Then that’s when your idea of beauty changes. Then we used these leathers, macramé, an incredible plastic that looks like bird skin. Then we went through an intensive two month period of hand braiding that was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. We wanted it to look like there is a story everywhere.
DD: The way you work is so hermetically sealed. Is it difficult then presenting it to the world?
Kate and Laura Mulleavy: Well it’s really hard because sometimes you have to do fittings in front of a group of people. I think it’s better to not talk about what you’re doing. It’s better to keep your own dialogue.
DD: And if you were to sum up an emotion running through the collection?
Kate and Laura Mulleavy: I think there’s desperation in it – this idea of a woman being stranded. That’s why we used this floral print which reminds me of the Depression and this dustbowl mentality where people just got through it. But ultimately, I like the idea of empowerment and survival and coming up stronger for it.