For Rodarte‘s spring-summer 2023 collection, Kate and Laura Mulleavy harnessed the theatricality and glow of live performances into a lineup of dresses and sets that balance fluid shapes with busy prints and intricate, rich textures. Alongside rainbows of psychedelic swirls – which take shape across bias-cut chiffon slips – and velvet burnout silhouettes, you will find a range of high-shine threads and embellishments with a light-refracting quality that adds striking dimension. “We were really wanting to feel something that was really vibrant and alive and about lighting and connectivity,” said Laura. A sense of ease and lightness was achieved on an entirely hand knit purple gown with long sleeves and a contrasting orange trim on the hem and cuffs. The yarn was made from a material “that almost looks like saran wrap,” Kate concluded. “No one believes it will be, and that’s what’s so cool about it. It’s very shiny.” They used the same fabric to create little skirt suits worn with matching cropped tops; one in shades of green, and another in orange and pink. The concept of light – both in terms of weight and illumination – played an important role in the collection. Metallic details abounded in fabric construction and embellishments, bringing into play the light that surrounds the garment as an added accessory. “All of the materials are in some way reflective of light. Even the lace has a sheen on it,” one of the Mulleavy sisters said. “So what’s interesting is that you see them differently depending on the angle at which you are looking at them.” This were manifested in straightforward ways, as in some of the looks in the second half of the collection: holographic sequins on an architecturally draped asymmetric gown; silver sequins on a spaghetti strap tunic and flared trousers; silver fringe on a Nick Cave-esque (the fine artist, not the musician) long sleeve cropped top and matching trousers; and gowns with mosaics made from small mirror shards. “We’re starting to see the red carpets open back up again,” said Laura. “I feel like there’s no version of us as designers at Rodarte if there never was a red carpet. We’re in Los Angeles, and it’s one of the thrilling aspects of designing eveningwear. If you design a gown, you want to see it out there, that’s the beauty of it.” But the Mulleavys know that the magic of their clothes is that they can impart that same feeling to anyone that wears them, no matter the place.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
Going for an all-pastel colour palette might be lethal. But the Rodarte sisters manage to keep the saccharine sweetness not that naive in their autumn-winter 2022 collection. The ultra-feminine line-up is heavily inspired by ballet and ballerinas’ ensembles, and it makes so much sense: Kate and Laura Mulleavy created Natalie Portman’s costumes for Darren Aronofsky’s terrific Black Swan back in 2010. But right now, there’s nothing evil about the Rodarte Swan Queens. Over 2020 and 2021, their innate sense of woman-ness has led the Los Angeles-based designers to swing their pendulum into collections about optimism, comfort, sweetness, sparkle, and motion. What they’ve landed on here is equilibrium. In pastel imagery by Daria Kobayashi Rich, with set design by Tina Pappas and Adam Siegel and floral design by Joseph Free, the Mulleavys have found the happiest, tenderest of marriages between the tiered cascades of blush tulle worn by Lili Reinhart, the crisp pink suiting donned by Janicza Bravo, the patterned tea dress on Natasha Lyonne, and the jeans and legwarmers on Laura Love. “The fantasy of what we want to do and create is the number one driving force,” demurs Kate, but when the Rodarte fantasy intersects so potently with reality as it does here, the designers’ honestness can feel more relevant than ever. In between, they make pit stops in bright fuchsia and teal, resurrecting their famous grunge-y spiderweb knits from autumn-winter 2008. “They are practical in a sense that they mold to your body and impractical in the most amazing way,” says Kate of the signature knits. The original versions – mini tube dresses and long cardigans – are back to the sure joy of many fans, but the sisters aren’t just playing to archive-mania. They’ve also made bustiers and capes in the knit, the latter worn by Lana Condor in a blue look trimmed in feathers. “The cape,” Kate says, “is practical and whimsical.” And sometimes you need fashion to be just that, equal parts a slip dress and a fantasia. It’s that kind magic that makes so many celebrities show up for a Rodarte photoshoot: the girls who get it, get it.
This wasn’t a regular Rodarte collection. Kate and Laura Mulleavy left behind romantic ruffles and horror vacui ornaments, and resorted towards something lighter, even ethereal. Over the past 18 months, the Rodarte sisters have made a promise to meet their woman where she is. Their spring-summer 2022 collection was a proper declaration of re-emergence, of spiritual glitz, and of reconnecting to nature. From the first white dress with trailing black triangles at the sleeve to the last mushroom printed bubble dress, this was a collection meant for movement. Gusts flared out their hems, made their beaded fringe dance, and blew up their circular bubble dresses to spectacular effect. The Rodarte woman, once a wallflower, was now in the height of her natural power. And then, with the speakers crackling under a vibrato of aaaaahhhhhs, came a sunset of draped dresses and barefoot models. Was it a sun salutation, an homage to cacti, or a cult offering? In the minds of the Mulleavy sisters it was gestural, turning their models into a painter’s palette to celebrate the raw beauty of the earth. It’s a personal message for them: their mother is an artist, and their father is a botanist specializing in fungi. That blossoming mushroom finale dress was hand drawn by their mother and, in a way, about their father. So much ink has been spilled about the dynamic between Kate and Laura, but their mighty artistry was clearly cultivated and nurtured by their parents. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; and the Rodarte woman will feel comforted and extra glam in the family’s beautiful new collection.
The autumn-winter 2021 collection by Rodarte, with a look-book photographed on a breezy beach, has a magical, witchy aura about it with a 1990s style twist. And it also feautures Alicia Silverstone, the actress behind Cher Horowitz’s wholesome persona, sun-kissed and smiling, alongside Aurora James, Heather Kemesky, and other models. The campy, kitschy teen world of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 classic might seem miles away from the broody gothicism often associated with Rodarte, but Kate and Laura Mulleavy grew up on Clueless. They saw it in theaters in their native California – and then rented it “hundreds” of times from their local video store. However, he plaid suits and slip dresses Cher wears in the film aren’t recut one-to-one in the Mulleavys’ interpretation. Theirs has always been a more abstract aesthetic. This season, they started with a bias-cut halter midi-dress in cartoon hibiscus prints or vixen sequins held up with a ribbon bow at the neck. They learned last season that waft-y, comfortable dresses do well and extrapolated on them with V-neck dresses and flutter-sleeve maxis in a mix of vintage-store pastel florals and grungy black. For going out, they built up their sequined offering, and for staying in they translated their floral prints into stretch dresses, tops, and pants. There’s also a big varsity jacket, an evolution of their popular souvenir style, worn by models of all genders. One of the crucial lessons of Clueless is that the right outfit can change your stature, your mood, even your life. The Mulleavys understand this, and they imbue that cinematic sense of dressing up for who you aspire to be into their collections. They’re famous for their extraordinary red carpet dresses, but the Mulleavys do make clothing for people’s actual, beautiful, and mundane lives. “We are thinking about how people want to wear things,” Laura says. It’s definitely good to see the designers come back with a optymistic collection after the tumultuous year of lockdowns and crisis.
After last season’s Dracula-bitten, romantic extravaganza, Rodarte’s spring-summer 2021 collection – presented in a look-book – is understandably much less dramatic. It’s actually about coming back to the brand’s roots, according to Kate and Laura Mulleavy. The dual crises of a global health pandemic and raging wildfires in California – the sisters’ homeland – forced the designers back into that state: at home, together, with only their creativity to occupy them. While their collection was borne from the same cloistered Californian sisterhood of their earliest outings, the final products are visually different. It’s signature Rodarte, but in more practical-magic version. It’s not so much that the tulle explosions or the cake topper confections have dulled; in the face of such tough times, the sisters are emphasizing the importance of making fashion for this struggling world. “Everything we do is about fantasy and dreams, but we are located in a moment, and we are a part of what is happening now,” Kate told Vogue. A fanciful gown, both designers agree, has little place in today’s world, so instead they channeled their efforts into clothing they would want to wear now “without distilling the ideas.” Expect florals, veils, and just slightly off sweetness. Pajama sets, slips, and robes appear in dainty and orderly floral prints inspired by their local gardens. The floral story continues in the ’40s dresses they played with last season, now relaxed in shape with prints that radiate from the navel or appear in handkerchief-like grids. Silk sweatshirts (I’m on fence with logo ones, though), trackpants, and midi-skirts continue the motif, trimmed in lace or ruffles. All this is topped off with silk floral wreaths that frame models’ faces, giving them the impression of fairies, nymphs, or other magical woodland creatures. With this collection, the Mulleavys have proven their ability to make inherently useful garments that don’t compromise on the Rodarte identity.