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)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Andy Warhol, Starving Artist

Before multi-colored Marilyns, Studio 54, and tomato soup, Andy Warhol eked out a living drawing shoes in small New York City apartments.

In 1949, Warhol moved to New York, and started working as a commercial artist. He drew shoes, gloves, and other apparel for magazine ads in Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and Glamour. He lived with multiple roommates and in basement apartments. He was out all day looking for work and up all night drawing. He got paid per shoe he drew and would count them up to see what his paycheck would be. I think any artist who has lived in New York can relate . . .

He said, "The things I remember most about those days, aside from the long hours I spent working, are the cockroaches. Every apartment I ever stayed in was loaded with them. I'll never forget the humiliation of bringing my portfolio up to Carmel Snow's office at Harper's Bazaar and unzipping it only to have a roach crawl out and down the leg of the table. She felt so sorry for me that she gave me a job."

I like to take out my little Andy Warhol Fashion book on nights when I'm up late working on freelance. It's comforting to know that so many creatives have come to New York to work, live, and suffer, in hopes of getting their work seen, and that it's possible to go from roaches and shoe drawings to the MoMA.

And I really love how Andy drew shoes . . .

(All images from Andy Warhol Fashion, Chronicle Books, 2004)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Alexander McQueen

I just got a text message from my cousin, who is in fashion school, telling me that Alexander McQueen was found dead this morning. I was hoping to find a conflicting statement online, but when every source confirmed it, I felt my throat tightening.

This is devastating not only to the fashion world, but to all creatives out there. On days when I felt stuck with my graphic design work, I would visit McQueen's site and watch his runway shows for inspiration. His use of color and line was astounding, and the shapes and worlds he created rival those of Picasso. He was, simply, a genius.

We have lost someone great. 

“Now there are some things we all know but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars—everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always letting go of that fact. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
— Our Town, Thorton Wilder, Act III

(All photos from

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prada publishes

The first pair of truly amazing shoes I owned were a pair of brown suede Prada slingbacks. They were an extremely generous gift from a good (and fashionable!) friend and I love them to death. I have had them re-heeled more times than I can count.

There's something unparalleled about a luxurious pair of shoes, and after you careful examine a pair of Pradas you start to understand what sets them apart from less expensive brands.

With that pair of shoes, I fell for the brand. Now, each season, I pay special attention to Prada's collections. And wait patiently for sales. Last summer, I got the last pair of python runway heels in the Fifth Avenue store. They were almost forgotten on the toes of an upstairs mannequin.

Back in November, when I heard that Prada was putting out a book, I was thrilled. But when I read that it wasn't being released until February, I tried to push it out of my mind. No use obsessing months in advance. That's why I was shocked to find it among my Christmas presents. (My boyfriend had ordered it from Milan!)

It's absolutely incredible. My favorite sections are the photos showing the mohawk runway shoes being made, the layouts of the fashion shows, and the complete collection of their magazine ads.

Not only does it chronicle everything about the brand, it's a beautiful book. It comes with a sturdy slipcase that gives the impression of a fancy dictionary. The varying page layouts really highlight the work and they even go so far as to include pull-outs. Everything seems considered, much like the brand itself.

This book is made for someone like me, who carefully traces her fingers over every stitch of a handmade jacket, or wonders about the beginnings of that collection marching down the runway at Fashion Week. It shows you how one pair of beautiful shoes can start an obsession . . .

(Prada book photos © Littlehouse of Style)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Get out of jail free cards...?

I decided for my New Years resolution that I would give up buying new shoes for 6 months. Now, this came on the heels of the Barney's sale where I went a little wild, but, still, I'm going to give it a go. I can't stop thinking of the Sex in the City episode where Carrie realizes she has spent what would have been a down payment for an apartment on shoes. "I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!"

Not that I'm as shoe crazy as Carrie (well, maybe), but I could curtail my collecting a bit. Everywhere you turn in my apartment there are shoeboxes hiding!

One of my friends sagely commented, "Six months seems like a long time, what about the Spring collections!" (HIS resolution was to give up smoking. Overachiever).

Well, maybe I can give myself 2 "Get Out of Jail Free cards". . . hmm . . . What would be my picks? Obviously, a pair of Proenza Schoulers. If you haven't noticed, I love the design duo, and their shoes always amaze.

Oh, and Jil Sander's metal heels and platforms! I've been on the search for navy heels . . .

Maybe Christopher Kane's screw-like heels? How great would these look with a classic black cocktail dress?

And Lanvin's classic nude and cream pumps. They would go perfect with a brown shirt dress that I have . . .

And Gianfranco Ferré! What are you doing to me?! You know I'm a sucker for architectural heels!

This is going to be harder than I thought . . .

(Community Chest card parody © Littlehouse of Style, Runway shoes from