Quicktake: Rodarte

The Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte present their fashion installation at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

Fashion Incoming
Photo: Carmel Wilson
Following a stellar 2009 which has seen them nab a CFDA Award and a smash collaboration with Target; the Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte continue their inexorable rise as the most intriguing American designers working today with a fashion installation at the venerated Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum as part of their Quicktake series, which opens on February 11th during NY Fashion Week.

 “I had met them a few years ago and worked with them on a few things before so we were able to start the process immediately”, says Director of Retail and curator, Gregory Krum. “For me, Rodarte is inextricable from the minds of Kate and Laura...nothing they do is ready-made. Obsessions and minuscule fascinations are filtered and transformed by their unique brand of collective mental alchemy. Ultimately, for me, Rodarte means fearless transformation. On the inspiration side, there is no discrimination between the pristine and the ruined within the cycle of creation and destruction. The resulting work is uncompromised and at such a sophisticated level... this is why we pay attention.” Asked where he sees Rodarte fit in the lineage of American designers from Claire McCardell to Marc Jacobs, Krum opines, “Rodarte quite literally came out of left field. They don't seem to be working against any particular ideology, nor are they championing one. They are able to pick, choose and if that doesn't work make up techniques to create fiercely particular handmade garments strictly on their own terms. I think this is how they can influence the discussion at a very high level. I also think many American designers are still working under the dream of modernism, however, I don't think it has ever been Rodarte's goal to make a pretty dress that wears well.”

The darkly majestic S/S 10 showing with its themes of ruination and rebirth forms the basis for the exhibition which also takes in a myriad of inspirations ranging from Californian Condors, Japanese horror films to the deconstructed work of Gordon Matta-Clark. Says, Krum, “This is not meant to be a retrospective of any kind, instead we are looking at the reoccurring theme of destruction within their work and are showing about 17 outfits amid some destroyed environments...as if a typical museum show was somehow broken or long neglected!”

For the Mulleavys, it has been a chance to open up some of their previously hermetically sealed creative process to the world. Says Kate, “Laura and I are excited to explore our creative process in a more revealing manner because it is so connected to the intellectual development of our collections.  We want to be able to communicate the ideas behind of our clothes with people.  In some ways, it is the reason we design. Hopefully, broader awareness ends up meaning that we get to share our ideas with more people.”

Following acquisitions of pieces from their previous collections by the Metropolitan Museum and Fashion Institute of Technology, this exhibit lends some credence to what one critic described that Rodarte creations seem to hover mysteriously at the point where fashion meets art. “In the end, one hopes to make things that transcend a specific time and that have broader meaning,” says Kate, “As designers, we are deeply connected to this tradition.”

Looking ahead, there may be signs that the Mulleavys are turning away from the darkness of recent efforts. When pressed as to what to expect from their A/W 10 show, Kate Mulleavy offered a tantalizing glimpse: “transient landscape”.
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