A Family Outing
The Rodarte sisters, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, are exploring textiles for interiors
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
Now is certainly Rodarte's moment. Kate and Laura Mulleavy are everywhere, upscale and down: darlings of Vogue and Target, recipients of the 2009 Council of Fashion Designers of America Award for women's wear, the subject of the monthlong "Quicktake: Rodarte" at New York's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The California sisters have done all this on the strength of 10 collections so far—technically ready-to-wear but rife with couture treatments. Rodarte was founded just five years ago, far from fashion's epicenters, and originally operated out of the sisters' Pasadena family home before they rented a loft in downtown Los Angeles.
Their latest endeavor comes close to home, symbolically, when the drapery and upholstery fabrics of Rodarte for Knoll Luxe launch in May. It seems almost inevitable in retrospect that the Mulleavys would team up with Knoll-Textiles creative director Dorothy Cosonas, who sees Knoll Luxe as a vehicle for young American fashion talent. Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler were the first collaborators, the Mulleavys her sole choice for an encore. "They have an intimate understanding of materials, colors, and techniques," Cosonas says. And what is Rodarte if not an exercise in fabric fantasy? Tie-dyes, chunky knits, cheesecloth, bandaged wrappings, strips of patterned leather sewed into a jacket miraculously able to stand up on its own.
Even more important, the Mulleavys are young women with myriad outside interests that end up inspiring collections. "We're obsessed with the landscapes of the American West," Kate Mulleavy says. Clearly the spokeswoman for the two, she goes on to describe a shared passion for road trips, notably a recent one from El Paso to Marfa, Texas: "You feel like you're driving to the end of the earth." A fascination with horror films also provides conversational shorthand. "They're a way for us to talk to each other about certain colors or ideas," she explains. "Plus, horror films are 'outsiders' in the film world." Like the Mulleavys themselves.
At L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum, curator Kevin Jones recognizes their far-flung influences and couture leanings. "They are completely modern, universal designers. Their work reflects art-craftsmanship and the multiculturalism of Los Angeles and the world," he says.
Well traveled they may be, but the legendary Knoll had never crossed their radar screen. "When Dorothy approached us, we were blown away by the history and the idea of translating what we do into interiors," Kate Mulleavy says. The partnership was born with Knoll imposing no parameters a priori. But the quick-study Mulleavys grasped the key issues right off. Durability mattered, as did aesthetic longevity. "These things don't just go on the market for a season and then go away. We understand that, thinking about how people live, how they bring in their personal memories," she continues. That's part of why the Mulleavys, who produce their fashion collections with a skeleton staff, agreed to tackle an extracurricular project. Added enticement came from "going out of our comfort zone," she explains. "That's the exciting part."
Unlike the cultural and natural references found in Rodarte collections—try Star Wars, the California condor, even dilapidated houses—there's no overt narrative to Rodarte for Knoll Luxe. The fabrics were conceived as an overview of the Mulleavys' aesthetic. At the start of the design process, they presented Cosonas with fabric swatches and dress illustrations as sources of ideas. Dip-dyed silk gowns, for example, eventually became a drapery fabric with a shaded effect achieved through digital printing.
Designs agreed on, Cosonas entered research mode. Mills in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and the U.K. were ultimately deemed capable of execution, and a U.S. mill would produce two of the upholsteries. At this stage, the color palette was still broad, "options that we liked but weren't wedded to," Kate Mulleavy explains. "When the samples arrived, they were in lots of colors, not just our choices." To make the collection cohesive, she and her sister picked colors with a certain richness: copper, violet, greeny-beige, steel blue, smoke or silver gray. "They exist together," she says, "but each is strong on its own."
Kate Mulleavy's favorite pattern, a knitwear-inspired drapery fabric, is a gossamer construction of threads suspended between layers of gauze. "It comes from the way we play with wool in its raw form, pulling it to make it stringy," she says. The fabric is called Parker, as in Dorothy, and the entire collection is named for poets. Laura Mulleavy's favorite, the drapery fabric with the dip-dyed effect, pays homage to W.H. Auden.
Emerson, a drapery fabric with an embroidery treatment that mimics studs, appeared in the Cooper-Hewitt's "Quicktake"—but in a form that was virtually unrecognizable. To depict the Rodarte concept of ruin, freelance exhibition designer Matthew Mazzucca literally torched 10 yards in his home bathtub. Then he stuffed the charred pieces into gaps in the black-painted floorboards he'd used to build display platforms. (Pristine rolls of Emerson and three other patterns have now entered the museum's permanent collection.)
Already starting to ponder Rodarte ready-to-wear for spring 2011, Kate Mulleavy says that the sisters haven't yet "committed to an idea." Could the creative process now work in reverse, with Knoll Luxe fabrics migrating to the runway?
We would love your feedback!