Rodarte Designers Kate And Laura Mulleavy Talk Dream Dresses, Black Swan And Ten Years In Business

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  • As they get set to celebrate 10 years of their fantasy creations, Marie Claire Runway speaks to design duo Rodarte (sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy) about their latest collections and what makes a dress museum-worthy...

    As they get set to celebrate 10 years of their fantasy creations, Marie Claire Runway speaks to design duo Rodarte (sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy) about their latest collection, designing for Natalie Portman and what makes a dress museum-worthy…

    What inspired your spring / summer collection?
    Laura Mulleavy: We thought about the spectacular tide pools we’ve seen in Monterey Bay, and we wanted to capture the texture of things that grow underwater – seaweed, algae. All the dresses were hand-beaded and aged with hand-painting and one look actually had sand put into it.

    Kate Mulleavy: It turned into a story of mermaids in this underwater world, but we also imagined the angsty attitude of a cool girl who would hang out at a pier. When there’s something extremely beautiful in our work we always try to balance it with something that’s a little off, or not quite right. It stops things from looking literal and common, or too pretty.

    (Picture: Laura Mulleavy (far left) and Kate Mulleavy (far right) of Rodarte)

    LM: The high-waisted trouser shape seemed quite cool and edgy, for example, so we paired that with a more flamboyant blouse. It was about balancing how pretty something looked with tougher, wearable ideas like parkas and jeans.

    Yours isn’t the typical Californian ‘look’, is it?
    LM: Maybe not what people would immediately associate, but then it’s such a large state. We grew up there and it always feeds into our work in some way.

    KM: The natural landscape is so varied, from forests to snowy mountains to deserts – our aesthetic reflects all the beautiful biological ecosystems. What’s the most obscure thing you’ve ever taken inspiration from?

    LM: When we did a collection based on California condors, people thought that was very obscure. To us it made perfect sense! I grew up thinking birds were magnificent. But for fashion…

    Neither of you studied design. Where did you learn to think so creatively?
    KM: We dedicated a lot of time to watching horror films after college. It taught us that you can find inspiration in all sorts of things – horror films are a beautiful balance of dark and light. If you look at stills from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or [1960 French slasher] Eyes Without A Face, they’re as equally beautiful as films that are feted as the best films of all time.

    LM: I studied English literature and Kate studied art history. Our education trained us to be analytical of our surroundings and I think that’s what makes a great designer.

    You were both so young when you started. What did you know about business?
    LM: We flew to New York with ten pieces of clothing and the next thing, we were on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily and meeting with Anna Wintour three weeks later in Los Angeles. We were completely self-taught – I hadn’t worked at fashion shows, nothing. We didn’t know the ups and downs of the job or what it’s like to live in this cyclical way.

    KM: I’ve mentally blocked out how nervous we were in those first meetings with Barneys and Bergdorf’s. We definitely didn’t present ourselves in the way that we would now, it was a lot of baby steps and probably a lot of mistakes.

    LM: We learnt as we went and made up a way that worked for us. Over the years, through different mentorship programs [such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America], we’ve learnt the systems. But I also think that by not knowing those things, we’ve come up with a business that’s really tailored to how we work and what we offer.

    Like the fact that you still have no stand-alone stores?
    LM: No, we don’t have any. That’s something that we would definitely consider in the future because you can turn it into the jewel box of your world. A store is always an amazing opportunity, so it’s definitely something we would consider if we could.

    What’s your relationship like?
    LM: Our personalities are different, but we have the same taste. We have the same friends and we’ve experienced most of the same things, so we have the same frame of reference. The language between us is easy and that allows for a very creative relationship.

    KM: We really are always together, both in and outside of work.

    What about before show time, do you keep each other calm?
    LM: No one’s sleeping – I learnt that very early on! I think I’m calm and Kate’s a little more sensitive, but we bat off each other.

    KM: A lot of our friends work on the shows too and they keep us calm when it’s normally pretty chaotic.

    LM: You just have to block out that week and dedicate it to a very intense schedule.

    Now it’s almost been ten years… how does that feel?
    LM: I didn’t even know so much time had gone by.

    KM: It’s a very intense job… it never stops. You never have time to think about what you’ve accomplished, or how much goes into everything that is being made.

    What have been some of your milestone moments?
    LM: Working on the costumes for Black Swan was amazing. It opened my mind to the art of storytelling and we fit well into that realm. It was a whole year process that went right through to making Natalie [Portman]’s Oscar gown.

    KM: We’ve known Natalie for a very long time now, so it was amazing to work with a friend on something that was important to her. When you have a special relationship with [clients] you grow together and they do become your friends.

    LM: Definitely our first gown that was acquired by the MET [Metropolitan Museum of Art] – that was a really special moment, too. It was a show on the history of costume in fashion and our dress was the finale piece. For me, that solidified what we do as designers. That’s what I want our legacy to be – pieces that are timeless and museum-worthy.

    The AW15 issue of Marie Claire Runway is out 23rd July.

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