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Rodarte |  Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte
Rodarte | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte
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Inside Rodarte, LA Fashion’s Powerhouse Pair

Picture of Lo Brewer
Updated: 4 January 2017
There’s a certain ease to California style; a sun-kissed woman layered in flowy fabrics is what some might think of as the quintessential Californian aesthetic. And while that’s true, there is so much more to how the West Coast girl likes to look and feel. She can be represented not only by an earthy freeness but also by a modern sharpness. Rodarte, the fashion house founded by sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, has, for the past 11 years, encapsulated that certain ‘it’ that spells Californian style. Their attention to detail, exquisite construction, edgy silhouettes and angelic, almost fairytale-like design has ‘West Coast woman’ stamped all over it.

The Mulleavy sisters, who hail from Aptos, California and are UC Berkeley grads, founded Rodarte in 2005. Their label, ‘Rodarte,’ is the original Spanish pronunciation and spelling of their mother’s maiden name, ‘Rodart.’ Their brand began as just ten pieces that they pitched to fashion editors during their first trip to New York City. The line was immediately picked up, and within days, they landed a Women’s Wear Daily cover and were meeting with Vogue’s Anna Wintour.

Rodarte F/W ‘16 | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte
Rodarte F/W ‘16 | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte

Over the next decade, Kate and Laura would be the recipients of several awards and honors like the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award (2005) and the Swiss Textiles Award (2008). And while these awards might make some sit back, relax, and enjoy the adulation, it instead drove the Mulleavys to push harder.

‘For some designers, fashion is about just making a dress and they’re hugely successful. I admire that. My version is much different. I view fashion as one component of how my brain works. Hence, it never feels done for me on the runway. That’s one of the reasons why we constantly search for other projects. It’s a dynamic world,’ Kate explained to the Chicago Sun Times.

Rodarte F/W ‘16 | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte
Rodarte F/W ‘16 | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte

It’s their unique aesthetic, a finely detailed construction used to create an ethereal flow to all of their pieces, that has helped them be recognized as true artists. Thus, their work has been featured as art installations not only in their home state of California but also across the United States.

While their foray into the art world began with them being featured alongside other designers in exhibits like BLOGMODE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and Luxury at The Museum at FIT, they’ve also had other very successful solo showings. In 2010, the same year they received the National Arts Award from Americans for the Arts and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Fashion, Rodarte had a solo exhibition at The Cooper-Hewitt Museum (the design branch of the Smithsonian Institution). This was followed by two solo shows in 2011: Rodarte: States of Matter at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and RODARTE: Fra Angelico Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Many of Rodarte’s pieces continue to be featured in the permanent collections of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum at FIT, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. They were also recognized this year with both Kate and Laura receiving honorary degrees from the San Francisco Academy of Art.

Rodarte F/W ‘16 | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte
Rodarte F/W ‘16 | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte

Not just designers, the Mulleavy sisters have proven themselves to be astute businesswomen. They’ve collaborated on special projects that have shown them as costume designers for the New York City Ballet and the movie Black Swan. They’ve had very successful collaborations with Target and sneaker company Superga. They were also featured in their first monograph, Rodarte. This art book takes a look at Rodarte’s work, as photographed by fine art photographers Catherine Opie and Alec Soth, next to pictures of California State landscapes. It is yet another tribute to the home from which they’ve drawn so much inspiration.

The Californian born and bred Mulleavy sisters have established themselves as designers, as artists, as innovators, as keen entrepreneurs. They understand the female form and constantly have their fingers on the pulse of what makes women look and feel beautiful. They’ve said on more than one occasion that California has inspired their craft. And Californian style will no doubt be beautifully represented in Rodarte, and all of their other projects, for years to come.

Rodarte F/W ‘16 | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte
Rodarte F/W ‘16 | Courtesy of Black Frame for Rodarte