Interview : Alex Freund & Lisa Mosko
Portrait : Todd Cole
RODARTE’S INSPIRATIONAL DRIVE AND FINDING BEAUTY THROUGH CHAOS
Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte have quickly cemented their position among the top tier of fashion through their innovative design and unexpected approach, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Japanese horror movies, botany, outer space, and geography. The two sisters work together as if psychically connected and convey a singular point of view in a manner seldom seen even among solo designers. Gravure sat down with the Mulleavys to chat about collective consciousness, earthquakes, slime mold, and their creative process.
Your mother was an artist and your father was a botanist – how do you feel they each influenced your work? Is there anyone else who has influenced your work in a substantial way?
We grew up in a quiet town outside of Santa Cruz, CA. Our father was a botanist who studied myxomycetes (slime molds) and fungi. He was obsessed with things that were microscopic. In many ways, it was a very fantastical childhood, because we were always in the forest and surrounded by interesting scientists and artists. Our mom was an artist and was constantly exploring different mediums – painting, weaving, mosaics, and sculpture. The question of where we want to be always leads us back to where we started.
We have a shared collective memory which allows for our aesthetic interest to conceptually evolve from our personal history. We are attracted to imperfection and to the beauty of chaos. Growing up, our house rested right on the San Andreas Fault. I can remember a huge earthquake happening one summer… I was standing in our kitchen and within a few seconds every porcelain plate, bowl, and glass cup had literally flown off the shelves and shattered on the floor around me. I remember being mesmerized by the shards. A broken plate will always be more interesting to Laura and I than a perfect, untouched object. The value is in the stain, the shadow, smudge, tear.
Kate: Everything that we did was related to nature. I used to love drawing mushrooms as a child as much as dresses. You know our first collection was based on fungi shelves.
Laura: In a sense, we saw things through our parents’ eyes.
Gravure: You often find inspiration outside the realm of fashion – movies, places, art, etc. Where do you seek out inspiration and can you describe how you go about incorporating these influences?
Kate: I think all story tellers, no matter what the medium, are compelled to consider what others may be overlooking. It’s simply a matter of opening ones eyes.
Gravure: Although you were always creating clothes growing up, you attended college and earned liberal arts degrees. How do you think this has informed your approach in making clothes?
Laura: The path we took allowed for us to think differently and to figure out our own aesthetic voice.
Kate: We have always been committed to developing our own viewpoint which has allowed us to personalize the industry.
Gravure: You guys have such a cerebral take on your work, drawing from cultural themes, geography, and cult classic films, and you are always working on so many collaborations in addition to your seasonal collections. How do you keep your inspiration fresh?
Kate: We’re interested in telling stories and fashion is just one medium that allows us to do this. We believe that everything interacts; it’s not as simple as just saying we want to make a fashion show and that’s it.
Gravure: What role do each of you play in creating a collection?
Laura: We really work as one person. To me, we have the same mind, because we’ve both seen the same things… learned the same things… It’s hard to explain, but in that process, we really work as one person. We have a way of talking, and I completely understand all of her gestures and what she’s thinking and vice versa.
Kate: Growing up intertwined, both being so sensitive to what surrounds us, and having the same frame of references, really enables us to collaborate in the most natural sense.
Gravure: Your designs have such strong emotional resonance and often draw inspiration from interests outside fashion – movies, geography, and so on – do you respond more to ideas or emotions as inspiration? In the case of films, do you find inspiration more in the visuals or in the stories?
Laura: It really becomes about capturing feeling and mood and it’s often connected to a certain memory or an abstract or layered idea. In the end, all of these thoughts culminate into a landscape – real or imagined.
Gravure: Fashion is all about change. What change do you aspire to bring to the industry?
Laura: The beauty of fashion is this idea of a dream. And I think that a designer’s job is to create the dream and take people on that journey. That, to me, is the heart of fashion.
Gravure: You are frequently asked about being from California, and in your last interview with Gravure, you spoke at length about the influence of places like the Huntington Estate and how your SS09 collection was inspired by site-specific art. Is your work “site specific?” How does location influence your work? Has your view of your work changed as you’ve traveled more widely?
Laura: Working and living in Los Angeles, there is this underlying sense of freedom because at any moment you can travel to the most strange landscapes that are both prehistoric and futuristic-all within California. For example, Joshua Tree National Park, whose dominant geological feature is of bare rock, broken into loose boulders and stacked into piles upon piles, is also speckled with the most charismatic, and delicate trees known in existence. The combination of fragile sand tones and strange green hues acts to magnify the contrast between the park’s severe desert landscape with its bizarre flora and fauna. How does a seemingly prehistoric world seem to remain so preserved and perfect- so desolate and isolated- in the middle of California?
Gravure: What is your greatest aspiration as a designer?
Kate: We think of fashion in terms of its relationship to our creative process. We have always been more about the road getting some place than the actual destination.
Gravure: Who are you favorite film directors? Favorite music? Has any single director, musician, or artist influenced you? Who and how so?
Kate: We’re interested in space…stars…planets…I think in a weird way I’m still fascinated by the moment we went into outer space for the first time and people saw the Earth from outside of itself. I always thought it was an interesting self-awareness that really changed the creative dialogue.
Laura: We love George A. Romero, Peter Bogdanovich, George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick…John Carpenter, Dario Argento… Agnès Varda… John Baldessari, Walter De Maria, Eva Hesse, Robert Smithson… Galaxie 500, The Replacements… The Doors…. The Beach Boys, Tom Petty… Tupac…
Gravure: You’re both horror movie aficionados – what attracts you to horror as a genre? What films stand out to you and how have they affected your creative pursuits?
Kate: Laura and I are obsessed with horror films. It’s our number one obsession besides natural landscapes. To me, it’s one of the great forms of film making because so much focuses on doing everything right – if you do one thing wrong it takes you out of the moment and ruins it. It’s also a medium in the film world that’s on the fringe – never mainstream. I feel like that’s where we feel most at home.
Gravure: What is the most challenging part of doing what you do?
Laura: You have to approach everything with freedom and an open mind.