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In Conversation With

Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy

by Elana Frankel

October 8, 2021

Writer Ann Binlot catches up with fashion’s favorite sisters to ask about their Spring/Summer 2022 collection, this year’s Met Gala red carpet, and the creative process that keeps them curious and dreaming.

If American fashion had a proper couture house, it would no doubt be Rodarte, the Los Angeles–based label started by Kate and Laura Mulleavy in 2005. Rodarte’s creations are, in a word, ethereal. Approaching clothing as living sculpture, the designers burn, bury, drape, and slash sumptuous materials like tulle, lace, and leather with a meticulous intricacy and craftsmanship befitting Paris’s finest couturiers: a designation conferred by French government. Though Rodarte’s clothes thus technically fall into the category of ready-to-wear, the sisters once showed during Paris Couture Week — a dreamy collection of gowns inspired by the Robert Altman film 3 Women and the 16th-century cloister Port-Royal Abbey, where the show was staged in a lush, French courtyard garden — and Parisians heartily approved, offering exclamations of “Mag-ni-fique!”

"Our parents had a huge impact on us, so it was thrilling to collaborate on this collection. Our mom drew all the mushrooms that became the prints in the show."

Rodarte is considered by many to be a thinking woman’s fashion label. For their clothes are not only beautiful, they cause one to reflect. The sisters, who have also collaborated on films together, carry a diverse set of inspirations and interests, ranging from Japanese horror films (which informed their Fall 2008 collection) to Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Sunflower paintings (the basis of their spring 2012 collection). A 2012 special collection paid tribute to the work of Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico and Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the form of 11 delicately draped, pleated, and feathered gowns recalling heavenly frescoes. The artful collection was later acquired by LACMA and became Rodarte’s pièce de résistance featured in the 2018 Met Costume Institute exhibition, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.

After 16 years in the industry, which started with modest savings and a shared dream as young college grads, Rodarte endures. Their latest Spring/Summer 2022 collection — shown in Downtown Manhattan in the shadow of 9/11’s 20th anniversary — signaled hope. In what has been their first collection since the onset of the pandemic, the sisters drew inspiration from their artist mother and botanist father with a presentation staged in the courtyard of Westbeth Artists Housing, a hotbed of creativity that since 1970 has provided artists with affordable housing in the West Village (where a long waitlist is in place in what has since become one of the city’s most toniest neighborhoods).

QWestbeth Artists Housing, the venue for your S/S 2022 show, has a strong creative legacy. What inspired you to show there?

AThe location captured the spirit of the collection perfectly which was inspired by artistic experience and connection.

QThe collection was very much inspired by your artist mother, who you asked to paint an extraterrestrial landscape, and your botanist father, who works with mushrooms.

AThe collection was very personal for us, in terms of the process of designing it, and it felt natural to draw inspiration from the individuals that inspired us creatively growing up. Our parents had a huge impact on us, so it was thrilling to collaborate on this collection. Our mom drew all the mushrooms that became the prints in the show.

QYou also dressed Chloe x Halle for the Met Gala. How did that collaboration come about, and what inspired the looks?

AWe are huge admirers of Chloe and Halle. They are amazing artists and we are truly so inspired by them and honored to create their outfits for the Met Gala. It was so exciting to attend and see so many artists and creatives come together to celebrate the exhibition.

QYou've been in fashion for 16 years now. How has Rodarte evolved since you started, and what advice would you give to someone who wants to be a fashion designer?

AFashion is always evolving and changing, which is what makes it a dynamic industry to be a part of. Stay true to yourself and follow your unique vision.

Ann Binlot is a Brooklyn-based writer who has contributed to Wallpaper*, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times.

Editor: Aileen Kwun
Photography: Rodarte