‘Sister Act’

Nothing about Rodarte’s designing duo (Kate and Laura Mulleavy) is commonplace, predictable, or ordinary. The talented, hardworking, unassuming California natives (who live with their parents and grandmother in Pasadena) are close enough in age to be mistaken for twins, but are in fact two year apart (Kate is 27, Laura is 25). They are so in sync with one another that, by their own admission – they “are like one”. Their creative collaboration, which has grabbed the attention of the fashion world, perfectly illustrates this harmony.

The Berkeley grads who studied Art History and English respectively, have only been in business for three seasons, and remain charmingly and refreshingly unspoiled, unaffected, and sweet – even in light of their amazing achievements. In fact, one could easily forgive them if they started acting like demanding, difficult divas, touting their own horns, or putting on artificial ‘airs’, considering that their 21- piece fall collection, which is more like couture than ready to wear and retails from between $1,000 and $16,000, has been nominated by the CFDA, for Swarovski’s Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear (which will be given out at the CFDA Awards on June 5th).

Not to mention that the line will be carried in 20 of the world’s most exclusive and visionary stores including Joyce in Hong Kong, Colette in Paris, and at Bergdorf Goodman in New York (on the 4th floor, just a stone’s throw away from Ralph Rucci – not bad!) This is where I caught up with them yesterday, on the first day of their two-day trunk show. And since I missed their fall/winter 2006 collection, shown during New York Fashion Week in a small intimate venue on the Upper East Side to a crowd that included Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley, I was glad to have the opportunity to see the clothes up close and personal.

For the Mulleavy girls who are inspired by artwork, textures, landscapes, marbleized sculptures, and swirling forms that are “modern and ancient at the same time”, it’s all about “the beauty of construction” and making “unique garments that are timeless”. When I asked which designers from the past, they would have loved to speak with, they immediately named them: Charles James and Coco Chanel. Which living designer? Karl Lagerfeld. But while they absorb EVERYTHING around them and are therefore influenced by it all (they claim to have “photographic memories”), they prefer not to ‘study’ fashion magazines or the work of other designers but rather, rely on their own instincts.

As for which star(s) they would love to dress? Even though this is not high on their priority list right now, and they are not exactly ‘into’ the red carpet scene, they both admitted to having an “obsession with Cate Blanchett” (who, it should be pointed out, would look amazing in their chic, elegant creations with their emphasis on cut, execution, and rendered in an easy on the eye and predominantly neutral color palette – it’s hard not to notice that shades of ivory and black are constant themes).

The designing duo proudly says that everything is lined (if it’s lined) in the HIGHEST grade satin which is “never seen in ready-to-wear” and their philosophy is that “you have to believe in what you’re doing”. This is why they like being far from 7th Avenue (in Pasadena) where they can “live in their own world” and hone their craft.

While everything in this well edited collection stood out from my point of view, the most beautiful piece (and of course, the most expensive at $16,000) was a narrow floor length confection in pale shades of ivory, cream, and pale yellow done in a mind boggling combination of georgette, organza, pleated and crinkled silk chiffon, and satin. It looked gorgeous from every angle (front, back, and side) which is another one of their trademarks.

By the way, speaking about the upcoming CFDA Awards…what are the girls planning to wear for their ‘big night’? In true form (the collection is “not about them” but their being able to realize a dream and fantasize for others), they’re too busy worrying about ‘the others’ and have not figured that part out yet. One thing you can count on: like everything else about them, it will be first class, highly individual, personal, and not cookie cutter predictable.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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