The Source of Inspiration: Rodarte


I went to listen to the Mulleavy sisters interviewed by Dr Valerie Steele, curator of the Museum at FIT, at the Fashion Institute of Technology. As I was myself just returning from a trip to California, I understood better their source of inspiration. Their roots are deeply planted in the Californian soil. At a time when globalism makes you fear uniformity, this solid anchorage is refreshing.” It is all about America. It is all about our relationship with the landscape where we grew up.”

Flowers from his garden of Granville created Christian Dior’s alphabet, red wood is what inspire Laura and Kate Mulleavy, who created Rodarte in 2005.

According to them, their father was a specialist of “unidentified mushrooms on red woods”. Kate and Laura learned to look up at the immensity and look straight into details. Cohabitation with red woods influenced their relationship with life, with colors.

Their story already belongs to the history of fashion. The two sisters, born in Pasadena in 1979 and 1980, after having studied art history and literature at Berkeley, started designing clothes. These first six pieces of clothes made their way on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily in the issue dated February 3 2005. Since, their success has been phenomenal. They have received many awards and a show at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in February 2010 has crowned their short career. What is so exceptional about their work is their unique inspiration. Japanese animated movies and “a certain red”, seen in Japanese horror shows, inspired a kabuki collection, while a deconstructed house nearby has inspired a collection of torn knit pieces, of ” half living clothes”. Their homeland inspired the spectacular Spring 2010 show with girls painted with Maori tattoos.” A trip to the Death Valley desert and the California Condor birds indigenous to our lives were our inspiration”. On the runway, tattooed girls wore tidbits of clothes “likes the scrapes of clothes, fabrics left over that you can spot in the desert.”

Finally a trip to El Paso, Mexico border town, inspired the Fall 2010 theme of the Sleep-walker collection. White candles filled the runway with smoke where diaphanous girls showed airy clothes.

“We had a story to tell. It was a serious topic and yet our lighter collection”. Their inspiration, rooted in a land, (“Denim is part of our culture”) is also extremely instantaneous: a shared image, a passing color or a childhood memory. Then anything can be used to render this fugitive sensation: fabric is dyed over and over, or simply burned, leather is hand marbled and knits,” de-knitted “.

Having a voice, a vociferous voice echoed in the desert is what Rodarte is about. Next question: is it art? “Not art, fashion prefers to haunt art” said Valerie Steele quoting the article “Riches to Rags’, signed by John Kelsey in Art Forum. (http://www.artforum.com/inprint/id=25166)

“Any creation process has to be approached artistically” said Laura.” In another medium, it could be art”, added Kate. Creating a line for Target or limited editions for Colette in Paris is more commercial.” The Rodarte label is itself like one of those border towns built around a constant renegotiation of exclusion and inclusion, of the local and the alien.” wrote John Kelsey… making Rodarte eccentric designs so familiar.

r. Valerie Steele, center, with sisters Laura, left, and Kate Mulleavy, the founders of Rodarte.


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