Thursday, February 25, 2010

Magical Rodarte

This past Saturday afternoon, I went uptown to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum to hear Laura Mulleavy speak. Laura, along with her sister, Kate, are the founders and head designers of Rodarte, and currently have a exhibit at the museum. The talk lasted over an hour. There was no PowerPoint presentation of Rodarte's clothing or videos of their runway shows. And from where I was sitting, I could only see a sliver of Laura’s face, because the stage was so low. Still, it was an absolutely fascinating talk.

Laura Mulleavy has a voice filled with wonder. She speaks deliberately, as if she is reading you a very important fairy tale. She uses the word "magical" a lot. Before Saturday, I had never heard a designer speak about their work. I knew Rodarte's complex knitwear and gorgeous weaving of textures, but nothing about Kate and Laura Mulleavy. I walked into that auditorium expecting stories of an apprenticeship at an atelier or long hours at FIT.

What I didn't expect was to hear a fashion designer list their biggest influences as Natural Wonders and ocean creatures. When asked about her inspirations, Laura said, "Kate and I have always been obsessed with the redwoods" and later spoke of how she loved the Monterey aquarium "because you'd see all these beautiful colors and delicate, delicate little animals, and they'd be like hot pink and white and they look like, I don't know, material that you couldn't describe to someone, I still can't . . ." I also was surprised to find out that they didn't always want to be fashion designers. Laura started college wanting to be a doctor and Kate studied Art History.

The way Laura talks about her childhood (“My dad was obsessed with lakes”), and even her life now, makes you want to coax her out for a cup of tea and a chat, and hope that she’ll invite you to one of her parties. (“We have a gingerbread competition every year”). She seems, like the best artists out there, to be interested in everything from sea creatures to literature.

After the talk, I wandered upstairs in the Cooper-Hewitt to see Rodarte’s work on display. It was breathtaking up-close. And suddenly, I could see how their collections were inspired by the National Parks and the vast wildness of the American West, or by a piece of insulation that had fallen off a truck on the freeway. Their work has an organic and uniquely personal quality, and you find yourself looking at it and thinking, "How did they get that vibrant color?" (they were inspired by flowers) and, "What is that made of?" (cheese cloth!) The work Laura and her sister do seems to come from a place that most designers doesn't. It's almost outsider art.

And I have to admit, after hearing the talk, I walked away with the impression that Rodarte’s initial 10-piece collection just appeared one day after the sisters graduated from college, and THEN appeared on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily shortly thereafter. There was lots of talk of inspiration, but very little of actual process or how it all really started. Of course, I'm sure it took millions of hours of work and education, but I prefer to think of it as a fairy tale, where two sisters from California suddenly realize they have the magical power to spin straw into gold.

(Many people have recently learned of Rodarte because Laura and Kate just did a line for Target. But if you aren't familiar with their runway collections, and live in New York, I highly recommend a trip to the Cooper-Hewitt to see their work on display through March 14th).

(All Rodarte photos © Littlehouse of Style)


rich said...

you know I am going when I come up again.

ringtales said...

Little House of Style, I really enjoy your appreciation of style and fashion.

I have heard of Rodarte, but I was not aware of the philosophies of its creators. I am an artist myself and you can see how nature is an endless source of new and fresh inspiration if we will look at it with a sense of wonder.

As humanity, having our clothes and surroundings echoing nature serves to ground, us in a world that increasingly alienates us from each other and creation. Well done Rodarte!

Modelizer said...

So I'm guessing you can shoot at the exhibit. I'm not a big fan of Rodarte in all honesty but this exhibit looks interesting and I think I would go insane if I couldn't take photos of another fashion exhibit. Might have to check it out in 2 weekends.

Catherine said...

Modelizer: Not sure if they would let you in there with a professional camera, but people were definitely snapping away with their iPhones, etc. I used my little Nikon point and shoot digital with no flash, so probably didn't draw enough attention to get yelled at— although there weren't any "no photography" signs . . .

The Photodiarist said...

Thanks for this post. I will definitely try to go this week!