The adjectives used to describe the sisters Mulleavy and their three-year-old line, Rodarte, inevitably end up circling the same notions of vaguely eccentric individualism: words like quirky, whimsical, enchanting, even mesmeric get tossed around. All are true, of course—how else to describe their rendering of delicate (and now trademark) pinked rosettes on filmy chiffon, and the duo’s gasp-inducing, precarious S&M-esque stilettos, a collaboration with Christian Louboutin, not to mention their wispy column dresses, candy-colored panels that move like undulating waves? And yet, six seasons into a career that was famously born out of the dining room of a small bungalow in suburban Pasadena, Calif.—where Kate, 29, and Laura, 27, still reside with their parents—a whole new set of expectations, let alone metaphors, is in order. Enter their fall collection.
Taking cues from the blood-seeped imagery of horror films, notably Dario Argento’s 1977 witch-coven film Suspiria, as well as the ratty glamour of Japanese anime schoolgirl heroines, the Mulleavys sent forth a refreshed, revised version of their eveningwear, infusing color, like deep scarlet and inky black, into many pieces, while slashing the models’ webby tights and fringing dark knits with loose, nubby pieces. The effect was something like tossing Degas’ fragile, full-skirted ballerinas into a Goth, bondage-themed house party—and the fashion crowd, many wearied by the muted hues and structured silhouettes of so many other designers’ fall shows, cheered.
“Usually when we do a collection it becomes a multilayered story, and horror films were the main reference point this time around,” says Kate. “Last season it was more about a watercolor palette, this idea of an innocent kind of character—she could be a tourist in any European city—and we were referencing animated films we loved. This time around, we felt like it was a broader story. In Japanese horror movies there’s always a raggy girl who looks like she came out of earth. And we were fascinated by this—it really became about those two worlds.” Kate is speaking via phone from the sisters’ studio, a 10-minute drive to downtown Los Angeles (Laura drives the pair there every morning; if she is out of town, Kate—“such an Aquarius,” her sister says affectionately—has an intern ferry her from home to work.) The two moved into the building a year and a half ago, thereby creating a distinct separation between their work space and their home, where they have lived since both graduated from Berkeley. “People are like, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you want to live in your work space now?’” Laura says.
“The truth is, we’re really close to our family,” admits Kate.
“I think even if we’re going to leave at 2 a.m., we’re still leaving,” adds Laura. “And that’s important for our business now.”
While the depth of the Mulleavys’ beguiling, almost childlike creativity has never been in question, the practical implications of such exquisitely detailed designs have been whispered about over the past few seasons. The concern seemed to be that party frocks—even those as unique and beautiful as the Mulleavys’—might not translate to a viable business. It did not go unnoticed, then, that in February, sprinkled among the frothy, hand-dyed circle skirts and ripped-knit dresses were true separates: a swingy coat in varied shades of blue; skinny rock ’n’ roll pants, cropped at the ankle and embellished with zippers; cozy thick-striped cardigans.
“Laura and I are designers who are fascinated by details, and we’re invested in having the pieces stand up by themselves so that they’re special on their own. But we realized we had to broaden that, which is the big leap from our early work,” says Kate of the line, which is now sold at more than 30 stores worldwide, from such fashion-forward meccas as Ikram in Chicago and Colette in Paris to Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York.
“We know what we’re spending and how to make everything work from month to month and how to have the proper growth,” adds Laura. “We went into this industry with the thought that what we wanted to create would be less commercial, but we also knew that in the long run we would build it into something that has a broad meaning. It’s just a longer process.”
The fact that both sisters are entirely uninterested in rushing their evolution from runway darlings to commercial successes does not mean their ambitions have waned, however. A big dream of Laura’s is to costume a ballet, interpreting Rodarte’s confectionery, blooming aesthetic for a troupe of dancers, while Kate would love to take on the costumes for a “grand old film.” And after last year’s successful collaboration with Gap, for which they designed three pieces inspired by the label’s popular white shirt, the sisters, who are nominated alongside Thakoon Panichgul and Alexander Wang for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Swarovski Award for Womenswear, have warmed to the idea of corporate partnership, though at the moment there are no plans to work with another company. For now, they will spend the summer as they have in years past: sketching, frequenting the Pasadena Public Library (“We like contained, quiet spaces,” acknowledges Kate) and possibly teaching themselves a new technique, as they did with fall’s hand-dyed pieces, which took three arduous months to perfect.
“When I was little, I would take swimming lessons, and they teach you how to dive, which I was always scared to do,” says Kate. “Going into a collection is like that for me still. The excitement is about going in a new direction each time, and always pushing ourselves. Even if we’re unsure where it’s going to end up.”
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye
Did you know: @carlychaikin of "Mr. Robot" has been painting for about a decade? The actress, who plays Darlene on the show, is a self-taught artist who lists Salvador Dalí and Chuck Close as some of her idols. Chaikin told WWD that painting is a form of meditation for her — A much-needed one given the intensity of "Mr. Robot." See a piece Chaikin is working on at WWD.com (📷: @jilliansollazzo) #wwdeye