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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York Design Rodarte

Mercedes-Benz
Fashion Week New York
Spring/Summer 2013.

The sister duo behind the fashion label Rodarte
scale new terrain with fantasy-inspired fashion.

Author: Alex Bohn
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York Design Rodarte

Two creative sisters.

At Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, Laura und Kate Mulleavy are the token odd ones out, letting their exceptional talents roam beyond the usual wearable fare that tends to rule North America’s catwalks. Instead, the Rodarte sisters treat us to visions like their upcoming Spring 2013 collection. Presented at Chelsea’s gallery quarter on 22nd Street, nestled between several regular art galleries, the location is an apposite choice considering Rodarte’s abstract, radical and sculptural approach to their chosen profession.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York Design Rodarte

Mysterious overture.

On the night, Jessica Stam opens the show in a shiny black leather dress spruced up with aqua appliqué. Underneath, the model wears a skin-tight turtleneck in a psychedelic digital print mixing aqua, black and white. Her pale yellow shoes, replete with sky high stacked heels, are held together by a wide clasp adorned with holographic foil. As a visual statement and hint of things to come, any show’s first look sets the scene and tone for the following line – but where is this particular collection heading? Now, Franzi Müller claims the stage in a silk top with ivy garland print, matched with a floor-length slit skirt featuring olive tree branches. So, what is Rodarte’s overreaching theme? The show’s DJ, Michel Gaubert, changes the pace with “Invisible Man” by The Breeders – surf punk and indie rock from the late 1980s. The popular DJ provides the soundtrack for many name shows and the track, while fun and fabulous, offers no further hints of a future direction.

But when a black, red and gold dress – embroidered with red flames and rhinestones – makes its appearance, the audience starts to stir. Even Anna Wintour, editor in chief of US Vogue, is clearly taken by surprise today. Only folk singer Joanna Newsom sports a blissful smile – wearing Rodarte.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York Design Rodarte

Fantastic insights.

Suddenly, it all becomes clear: All those mediaeval references – the floor-length skirts, tight corsets, laced-up mid sections and opulent tarnished silver jewellery – could have sprung from a fantasy novel. Against this background, the sheer wealth of shapes and materials, ranging from velvety brocade, patent leather, silk, metallic weaves and rivets to rhinestones, starts to make sense. Backstage, the two sisters behind the label expand on their theme: Apparently, they took inspiration from the seminal 1970s fantasy role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, a realm populated by brave knights and plenty of manic monsters. Far removed from today’s computer-generated adventures, this simple board game sucks players into a parallel universe and still counts among the world’s most significant role playing games. Yet despite its status, Dungeons & Dragons remains an unusual template and blueprint for a full-blown fashion collection.

Its heroes and villains tend to be clad in frocks and robes better suited to a theatrical cameo. Under the capable hands of Laura and Kate Mulleavy, however, these references take on a life of their own. Crafted and created for battle-ready princesses, their dramatic silhouettes lend new meaning and context to footwear with protector-like clasps. On closer inspection, each item displays masterful artistry.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York Design Rodarte

Free-spirited curiosity.

In this, they might benefit from their maverick status as lateral entrants to the discipline. After all, they did not study fashion design, but art history and American literature at Berkeley and loved to spend most of their free time in nature, taking creative inspiration from the area’s impressive redwood trees, for example. Their free-spirited parents, too, played a major role in shaping their open approach to wearables. While their father works as a botanist, their mother weaves Navajo-style carpets. Surrounded by this nurturing and creative environment, Laura and Kate Mulleavy sketched out their first collection at the kitchen table and finished the pieces in their own bedroom. And although the scale of their endeavours might have changed, they still remember their father’s college recommendation. He told them “to stay curious and not to try conform to your supposed career.”

Well, it looks like the sisters are honouring his advice. As always, they meet the thunderous applause at the end of the show in simple slacks and woolly jumpers. Thus hiding their true status: They are the real power princesses.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York Design Rodarte

Rodarte at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York.

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