Rodarte Fashion Exhibition in Washington

Spring 2018

Spring 2018

Early Rodarte collections drew critical acclaim for their use of unconventional methods and materials that fused dressmaking and artmaking processes. They also revealed a rapid command of various métier as self-taught sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy mastered one technique after another, skilfully combining them in subsequent collections.

“Rodarte burst onto the scene in 2005, taking the fashion and art worlds by surprise with their deeply personal and conceptual approaches to fashion design,” says Jill D’Alessandro, guest curator of Rodarte, a new fashion exhibition opening at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington on November 10.

Spanning the first 13 years of the American fashion house, the exhibition will present, nearly 100 complete looks that highlight selections from their most pivotal collections highlighting its designers’ visionary concept and great craftsmanship. The exhibition will run until February 10, 2019.


“The exhibition celebrates the Mulleavys’ pioneering approach and explores their use of narrative to convey complex thoughts on a wide range of subjects, including film, literature, art history, nature and the California landscape,” D’Alessandro explains.

“Rodarte continually prompts a dialogue between the worlds of contemporary art and fashion,” adds the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ director Susan Fisher Sterling, “This exhibition will continue that discussion with new insights, illustrating the Mulleavy sisters’ highly creative practice and sources of inspiration.”

The Mulleavys studied at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 2001, Kate focused on art history with an emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries, while Laura studied literature and the Modern novel. But they turned to fashion, picking their mother’s maiden name for their label. Their first creation of 10 handmade pieces was featured on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily in February 2005 and a few months later they were presenting their first runway show in New York to great critical response.

Spring 2012

Spring 2012

The Mulleavys draw inspiration from a wide range of artistic sources, layering these elements into abstract narratives that allows them to address larger questions about the human condition and the greater world. For example, in their Spring 2012 Collection, they were influenced by Vincent van Gogh and the collection references the painterly details of The Starry Night and his sunflowers paintings, though their initial ideas grew from a visit to the Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles where Edwin Hubble’s work showed that the universe was expanding.

Nature is also a primary source of inspiration for the Mulleavys and can be found in most Rodarte collections, frequently in the form of floral and garden motifs. Drawing upon their childhood, largely spent outdoors, the sisters often define their process through their relationship with the natural world. Thus a garden is not just a garden, but a specific memory, touch or scent, and a subject as serene as a flower garden can have deeper implications.

 For the Spring 2017 Collection, inspired by the poetic Spanish film El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (1973), models were sent down the runway in yellow, white and black-hued layers of ruffled lace and dotted tulle reminiscent of a honeycomb. This was as a nod to the fact that the North American rusty patched bumblebee was being added to the endangered species list for the first time.


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