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Backstage at Rodarte SS17
Backstage at Rodarte SS17Photography Lillie Eiger

Rodarte captures the spirit of Janis Joplin and Woodstock

Exploring the Mulleavy sisters’ latest collection which referenced the legendary blues vocalist and the 60s music festival

A swarm of bees buzzing around you may not sound like a beautiful reference. But then again, Kate and Laura Mulleavy have always seen beauty in the unexpected. Hence why orange-hued flowers trapped in between layers of steel racks and neon light tubes looked particularly alluring, when laid out on the floor of the set of their latest show.

This season, their starting point was the 1973 Victor Erice film The Spirit of the Beehive, which is about two sisters and their imaginary worlds. The Mulleavy sisters’ minds flitted to Spain, hence the excess flounce and ruffles that infiltrated this collection. But their Californian surroundings were always going to factor in – this season they looked to their own backyard. “Over the summer we were growing all of these sunflowers in our house and then all these bees just started to appear,” said Laura Mulleavy. “There’s something quite innocent and magical to think that there might be some type of imaginary spirit inside these creatures.”

Taking the sting out of the bees, gold flecks resembling pollen were scattered over dresses of chiffon and lace, accompanied by scraps of similar fabrics worked into the hair. The flowers that the bees would gather nectar from clustered on fuchsia-hued sequin embroidered dresses and printed silks. Janis Joplin was another inspiration point that the Mulleavy sisters were both fascinated with after watching documentaries about Woodstock. “It’s not necessarily about the way she dressed but it’s more like her attitude and spirit,” said Kate Mulleavy. You could detect more than the spirit of Joplin – it was in the fringed and patchworked leathers, and the collaged Mongolian fluffy jackets belted at the waist.

“This collection was hard because we were so emotionally invested in it. We wouldn’t be able to create these garments if we didn’t put so much heart into it” – Laura Mulleavy

In recent times, Rodarte collections have taken on an ethereal plane, neither bowing to the pressure to switch it up every season, nor bound by commercial constraint. It’s why they have been increasingly soulful – their shows are a rare opportunity during New York Fashion Week to feel your heart thump a little because a garment is that seductive.

In a Washington Post article, written by Robin Givhan back in June, it asked “Does Rodarte actually exist?”, critiquing the brand’s lack of financial imprint as a business. However it seems like a redundant, and unfair question to ask, when you actually experience mesmerising moments like the one we did yesterday. Rodarte exists to encourage dreams and fantasies that have an intangible trickle-down impact. And furthermore it’s refreshing to see a designer stick to what they know and love, compromising nothing of themselves and their identity.  

“At a certain point, it’s like ‘I give up – this is what we like to make as designers,’” said Laura. “This collection was hard because we were so emotionally invested in it. We wouldn’t be able to create these garments if we didn’t put so much heart into it.” There’s that word again – heart. We heard it at Proenza Schouler, another one of NYFW’s top draw designers. And we hear it again here, as well as seeing it spelt out in the shapes of lace-edged bodices on dresses towards the end of the show. Without heart, what you sell can feel altogether hollow and – a day on, as the finale track of Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free” plays in your mind, alongside a hypnotic finale where the girls repeatedly wandered and weaved through that set of flora, light and steel – you wonder how many designers have the will to enjoy such a freedom in these doggedly accountable times.