Bases Covered: Rodarte Broadens Appeal

If October alone is anything to go by, Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy are apt to see their already-vaunted industry perch elevated even further in the coming months. The duo was fêted twice this past week, following up Thursday’s National Design Award honors with a Young Artist recognition at the National Arts Awards just four days later. It was also revealed earlier this month that Rodarte would collaborate a second time with Opening Ceremony, creating a line of men’s and womenswear as well as accessories to be featured in the retailer’s New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo boutiques for spring/summer ’11.

Proving their fashionable purview extends beyond the confines of Barneys (think last winter’s Target collaboration), the Mulleavys are also delving into art and film: Rodarte was the subject of a popular, albeit small, Vogue-sponsored Quicktake installation at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum last February; the duo will also take part in PS1’s “Move!” at the end of the month, a two-day exhibition-cum-event pairing the designers with artist Brody Condon for a performance art piece that’s rumored to involve dancers. And on that note, there’s also Black Swan, the upcoming Darren Aronofsky thriller, for which the Mulleavys clothed onscreen ballerina and offscreen muse Natalie Portman.

Non-runway forays such as these suggest an increasing willingness among young, niche labels to experiment with their artistic breadth. It’s also, perhaps, an acknowledgment of the limits inherent to growth and visibility when creating dreamy, artisanal pieces that retail into the thousands and ultimately reach only a very tiny segment of the population. Sure, Rodarte has rarely wanted for praise, but it’s also never been considered a commercial label, instead dismissed as too ethereal, complex or expensive. The clothing is very much the Mulleavys’ own, neither outsourced for production overseas nor handed over to a design team. References are personal, mercurial and disparate, running the gamut from Japanese goth cinema and California Condors to, most controversially, Mexican maquilladoras.

For s/s ’11 , the designers surprised and delighted critics and buyers alike by creating a collection that was both intimate and salable. WWD thought the sisters “struck commercial gold,” with their Redwood forest-inspired, ’70s California nostalgia fest, while Vogue UK noted that it was both “more pared down than in seasons past” as well as “drop dead gorgeous.” Indeed, although by no means minimalist, Rodarte’s silhouettes were nevertheless uncharacteristically streamlined and simple. The restrained approach, however, didn’t preclude a visually arresting series of patterns and prints, which ultimately became the collection’s focal point.

If, as some industry sources have suggested, Rodarte was auditioning for a spot on Team LVMH, the designers nailed it. Granted, the acquisition would be an odd one for the luxury conglomerate, which tends to favor more established and heritage brands in lieu of upstart designer labels. For now, talks appear to have stopped, though last season show-goer and chief executive officer of LVMH’s fashion division, Pierre-Yves Roussel, openly proclaimed himself an admirer.

In the meantime, Kate and Laura Mulleavy remain busy, with the publication of their first coffee table book slated for late December. A collaboration between the designers and photographers Alec Soth and Catherine Opie, the eponymous tome will showcase original images chronicling the sisters’ creative processes. Given all that’s transpired just this season, there’s already ample material for a sequel. Whether a future follow-up takes literary, art or film form is anyone’s guess, but we can be sure that it will be executed with the utmost style.

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