September 12, 2016

MFF - The Interview: Rodarte, Kate and Laura Mulleavy

di Story by Stefano Roncato. Photos by Fred Jacobs

MFF - The Interview: Rodarte, Kate and Laura Mulleavy

A psychedelic dart. One that awakens visions. Manga, punk, teen-vampires, Star Trek. A mix of seemingly delicate femininity and neon brights that refresh their sets and their experimental couture. Unusual origins, California. Los Angeles, now loved for its fashion shows but difficult to imagine as a laboratory of haute couture. The city of angels reinvented by Kate and Laura Mulleavy. Encapsulated in a logo that describes a mixture: Rodarte. ‘Arte’, art, a Latin sound but to the beat of Sonic Youth, with those musical streaks that run under the surface. Friends with a generation of young Hollywood actresses who are making a difference. Angel-like, steely women from the big screen, with an attitude that defies all the rules. Just like the Mulleavy sisters. Shy when it comes to red carpets, yet as strong as the flowers strewn over the catwalks of their latest show - steel magnolias - in a nod to the countryside where they live.

With your show in February you have passed the ten year milestone. How do you feel?

Great. Every collection has allowed us to discover something new about ourselves and about how we feel. To present it to the public and feed the creative environment.

Have you changed anything in your aesthetic concept?

Not much, although at times your inner world needs to come out. Whether you are more open to experimentation depends on where you are at in your life at that point in time. Obviously, being more confident makes you more self-assured and helps you.

What do you say to people who define you as being more artistic than commercial?

They are actually half right. We are a bit of both. Certainly our vision, our concept, are artistic. The artistic world is what inspires us, and represents our background. But as we are an independent company, we have to have a business plan in any case. The only thing that you can do to be successful without an investor is to have a creative stamp.

Speaking of major fashion names, would you design for one or do you prefer to remain independent?

We love being independent, without anyone else telling us what to do, and without having the heritage of another brand behind us. You can never say never, though. I have to say that doing something on your own, creating a truly new vision, is extremely gratifying. If you work with a heritage brand, one seems to be more focussed on the traditions of the brand itself, with fast turnover mechanisms. You need to be sure that there is space to progress.

And what do you think about the high turnover of designers in the established fashion houses?

I am starting to think that people are becoming obsessed with developing the latest vision for a brand. Designers are under a lot of pressure to be the most exciting, present the newest statement. We can see how hard it must be to deal with all this. The fact that we are all different depends also on how you work. Some people work at a slower pace, whereas others prefer a faster pace. For others, even that pace may be too fast. Luxury means having an idea and showcasing it to the world. And allowing this idea to lead to something and not just focus on doing it quickly.

How did your collaboration with & Other stories go?

It was great fun. It was really exciting to go to Sweden to work there and they also came over to Los Angeles quite a few times. Their mind-set was compatible with ours, and there was easy dialogue between the two continents. We felt at home because they had the same approach as us, an attention to detail that made the collection really special. They design wearable, day to day clothes, and it was an interesting prospect for us as designers to not stop at what we are doing but try to go above and beyond.

Where does the name Rodarte come from?

It is our Mexican mother’s maiden name, although our grandmother is actually from Rome. The funny thing is that we have been to quite a few places in Italy – Venice, Florence, other small cities, but never to Rome. There must be a cosmic reason why, when we do eventually get there, it has to be a creative experience.

When did the media interest start?

Everything happened very quickly. With our first collection they introduced us to Bridget Foley from WWD. We went to their offices for a long meeting and two days later we were on the cover. Three weeks later we met Anna Wintour in Los Angeles. Two meetings that happened very fast and allowed us to meet with stores.

You are based in California, your show is in New York. What’s your next step? Europe?

You never know. We are showing in New York, but we do everything else in California. What we like about Europe is that fashion is treated like a national language there. And it is like a form of artistic expression which obviously interests us.

What does it feel like to be media darlings?

It has helped being in Los Angeles as we are kind of separate from all of that. We only experience this sometimes, either in the shows or if we are doing something specific with regard to our work. And this allows you to be in line with your vision. You can become very obsessed when you hear positive or negative comments. If you feel a certain way because of something someone said, you won’t be able to handle things in a different way. It’s good to have a clear head, stay focussed. And even when you are putting on a fashion show, the media could love it or raise doubts about it. It depends on where the energy is coming from.

How do you create a collection?

It’s complicated. Some designers have a clear and precise idea about what they want to do. We, on the other hand, have loads of ideas that need fitting together. It’s like navigating. Sometimes you have to create contrasts, feminine pieces with some severe touches added to balance the look. When you design, you should always think in terms of contrast. Ideas come from all over the place, sometimes from a fabric associated with a particular trip, or from something that happened. It’s a creative process that you can’t control.

Three words to describe your womenswear?

Delicate. Ephemeral. Experimental.

Over the years, you have accessorized your shows with tribal tattoos, eyebrow piercings or punk-inspired spikes. How important is styling?

We often try different ways to get our message across. This is why contrast is useful. Sometime we have to give our pieces a harder edge, add a more extreme element. If necessary.

How do you interact with the world of music? Who inspires you?

We have worked with a number of different musicians. We made videos with Todd Cole, we have worked with artists such as Beach House. We are inspired by Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth. Music is an important part of what we do, and when we go to New York for the shows, we spend a lot of time studying which music should define the show. People are also our inspiration.

Is it true that you sold your record collection to finance your first collection?

We had to. Although it was actually our father’s record collection.

Books, installations, the costumes for the opera performance in which you collaborated with Frank Gehry …why are these not-strictly fashion projects so important?

We worked on Don Giovanni for a year and it was a unique experience. It allowed us to fulfil other objectives. Creatively, it was very interesting because not only did we have to think about how the costumes would look on stage but also about the personalities of the individual characters. It was a period that influenced our work enormously.

Turning now to the costumes for Black Swan starring Natalie Portman. What is your relationship like with young Hollywood talent such as Kirsten Dunst and the Fanning sisters?

We met for work reasons or through mutual friends. In the same way as with Kirsten and Natalie who we later became friends with. In some ways we feel very similar. The nice thing about knowing actresses is that you get to see how hard they work. You see how creativity moves. However, when we are together, we don’t talk about work, although you do feel how strong the connection is. We decided to get involved in the Black Swan project because we liked the concept. Much of the character is based on the costume. We tried to help and provide as much support as possible to the character throughout their profoundly emotional journey. It was a very intense process of transformation, from a brave young girl into a black swan. Looking back, it was a surreal experience.

White or black swan?

Both. We love the world of classical ballet. In the film, it is interesting also how the brutality of the ballet dancer’s work is portrayed. And here too, there is contrast, the light and the dark side. A concept of extreme beauty.

What would make you happy right now?

Now that we’ve been talking about it, it would make us happy to go to Rome.