“They’re almost like Siamese twins, I just love them,” says photographer, David Armstrong of his good friends, the designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy – otherwise known as Rodarte. Celebrated for his intimate portraits of young men ‘in the bloom of youth’, Armstrong has in recent years turned his lens to fashion. A regular contributor to Dazed & Confused, AnOther and AnOther man, Armstrong first photographed the Mulleavy’s for Vogue Paris, at the request of the magazine’s then editor-in-chief Carine Roitfield.
Yesterday Rodarte presented their SS14 collection of Sunset Strip showgirls on a runway lined with neon lights, designed by long term set collaborator Bureau Betak. Armstrong was loyally in attendance and here he shares his personal thoughts on Rodarte's unique vision.
“The Mulleavy's always surprise me with gifts. Right now I am looking at this package they sent, an envelope filled with all these little pieces of ephemera with my name on. They send things they’ve collected all year, always really diverse but exactly what I would have pulled out.
That’s what I love about Kate and Laura, and their work: they have such innocence, and naivety, and authenticity. They have an incredible range of interests. A lot of designers don’t have that; I feel some just make up all this bullshit about what inspired them after the show.
Rodarte don’t have a manic relationship with branding either; they want to keep it small. It feels like a cottage industry, with the legend of how their grandmother taught them to sew, and they were working out of their garage. They still have control over everything; they don’t have eight million design assistants, it’s really them that are putting everything in to what they do. That’s how I feel about my own work too.
They were fans of my work before we first met, when I shot a portrait of them for Vogue Paris. They showed me images that they liked of my work; I could tell they have very good taste, because they were pulling together images that had the same feeling, but were created thirty years apart. I feel I have an understanding of what they like.
My favourite thing of theirs is always the gowns, the really over the top evening gowns. They seem to have a Hollywood thing that always runs through their collections, especially thirties Hollywood. Even then, they are able to reflect the current zeitgeist: there was a notable difference in their work before and after the economical crisis, for example. The first show I saw of theirs, maybe five years ago, was very over the top, and then the next one was very austere, very paired down. My favourite collection actually was AW08, the collection based on Japanese horror films. It didn’t occur to me until I was photographing it that it looks like someone had been murdered in those dresses, the way the crimson chiffon spilt over the dress like blood. I mentioned it to them, and they were like, “oh yeah, that’s what it was based on.”
American fashion is all about the bottom line; the designers can’t do anything even if they wanted to, because it’s all about the suits, the businessmen. The Mulleavy's really do stand out in all that; they are the real thing.”