Working as a waitress and a salesperson may seem like an unlikely start for two people who would go on to create one of the world’s most celebrated fashion houses… Then again, the Mulleavy sisters are anything but predictable. What was at its inception an offbeat indie brand, today rivals some of the biggest names in the world of ready-to-wear, known for its romantic and ultra-feminine gowns. The recipe for Rodarte’s success? It seems the sisters are still deciding that for themselves, as every new season is guided by instinct, feeling and, perhaps, more than a little nostalgia.
Kate Mulleavy studied 19th- and 20th-century art history at Berkeley; Laura Mulleavy, one year younger, studied literature and the modern novel. After graduating, they returned to their family home in Santa Cruz, California, where Kate started selling her collection of vintage records and Laura took up a job as a waitress. The duo managed to save up just enough money to create one small collection, which consisted of 10 hand-finished pieces. Carrying these garments around in cardboard boxes, they eventually managed to get an appointment at and debuted their work in Women’s Wear Daily. It wasn’t long before Anna Wintour caught wind of the new talent on the market and showed up at one of their viewings in Los Angeles. A few months later, they made their debut at New York Fashion Week. From there, their journey can only be described as miraculous, and their growth exponential.
In Rodarte’s first year of operation, the house was awarded the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award, which celebrates excellence in fashion design, and within two years was noticed and honoured by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. When Rachel Weisz graced the cover of Vogue US in October 2008 wearing a Rodarte gown, the sisters’ fate was sealed, and there was no slowing down their tremendous momentum.
Ignoring every trend and convention out there, the pair delighted audiences at every show they produced, breathing life into an aesthetic long forgotten in an age of contemporary attire. The models who walk the Rodarte runway shows are adorned with flowers, ribbons, layers of exquisite material, and luxe jewellery. It’s this celebration of extravagance that has made the sisters unique. It stands to reason then, that in time America’s most beloved (and sometimes most offbeat) stars would choose Rodarte, Natalie Portman, Millie Bobby Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross, Greta Gerwig, Kirsten Dunst and Brie Larson among them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, filmmaking became the Rodarte sisters’ next creative project, further exemplifying their shrewd talent. They teamed up with the American queen of melancholy (and long-time friend), Kirsten Dunst, to make Woodshock, which would go on to become one of 2017’s most haunting films. The movie was written by the sisters over two years and is just what you would expect from them: a moody, visually stunning cinematic work, which at every turn plays on the fine line between art and horror. And much like legendary designer Tom Ford in his films A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, the sisters poured their craft into Woodshock and it is, from beginning to end, something quite glorious, if at times unsettling.
As soon as it seemed the sisters would dominate the American fashion circuit, they announced their sudden departure from New York Fashion Week in early 2017. With the help of their show producer Alexandre de Betak, the sisters chose instead to present a private show aligning with Paris Fashion Week that same year. Rodarte showed at Couture Paris Fashion Week in January 2018 for the first time, and aims to present their collection at Couture Paris Fashion Week in July. Their show in January was nothing short of magnificent, like Pre-Raphaelite works of art coming to life; women dressed in dreamy gowns walked through the pristine gardens of the 16th century Port Royale in Paris.
The Mulleavy sisters’ relationship with history is what, in many ways, sets them apart from their peers in the industry. And it’s this nod to a bygone romantic era that holds them steadfast in the present, and indeed the future.
Photographer Autumn de Wilde
Styling Shirley Kurata and Ashley Furnival
Make-up Uzo for NARS Cosmetics
Hair Claudio Lazo for Wella Professionals
Nails Kimmie Kyees for Morgan Taylor Lacquer
Flowers Joseph Free
Production Design Adam Siegel and Tina Pappas
Producer Kaitlyn Fong at Connect the Dots
Redback lights provided by Hudson Spider