Inside the house of Rodarte

12 January 2010

Rodarte – first we think mmm, gorgeous, delicate embellished dresses and covetable cobwebby crochet tops. Second we think sisters, and third we think: enigmatic. That’s why we were so interested in this article in the New Yorker today, by journalist Amanda Fortini, which fills in a few of the blanks for us nosy parkers.

rodarte

We already knew that the girls didn’t go to fashion school, and they don’t live in New York or fit into any of our ‘fashion designer’ preconceptions. But here are more facts we learned today about the Rodarte sisters – real names Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

They look a lot like each other, but are easy to tell apart if you remember – Laura, the younger sister is a bit slimmer, with wavy hair. Kate has a rounder face and a fringe over her big dark eyes.

They don’t still make the clothes from their parents’ house in Pasadena (their hometown, not one that's usually on the fashion map) but they did until mid-2006. Now they rent a studio in LA.

Mentor Anna Wintour suggested the girls both go on a Vogue-sponsored diet last year, and even put the before and after pictures in the magazine. The sisters see nothing weird about this. They also get fed up with people criticising them for not producing their own designs in larger sizes. 'It’s assumed, I think, that if you’re a woman designer you must be designing clothes for yourself,' observed Kate, before going on to admit that neither of them would consider wearing the six-inch Nicholas Kirkwood shoes that the runway models do, either. 'Are you kidding?'

We should believe the hype. The collections have earned the sisters awards like the women's wear CFDA in 2009. Anna Wintour has gone on record saying: 'The Mulleavys are ripe for a house who might be looking for a designer. A place like Schiaparelli, which is just sitting there waiting for the economy to be better — I think they'd be perfect for that.'

Those in the US who love fashion but couldn’t quite stretch to $25 000 for a Rodarte dress were over the moon when Rodarte simplified their style for [cut price retailer] Target last year (Are you reading this, Topshop?), as modeled by Natalie Portman, who’s wearing the target dress to a red carpet event in New York. Even for a Hollywood star like her, the mainline collections are super exclusive.

Rodarte produces only a thousand pieces a year and has minimal profits — according to the Mulleavy's father, William, who acts as their CFO and business advisor: 'What profit we make goes back into research and development, and making samples for the next season.'

The girls are good at building their own mythology. Take the name Rodarte, for example – the girls ruled out calling the brand Mulleavy’s at an early stage, on the grounds that it made them sound like an Irish pub. On the subject of fashion myths though, Anna Wintour can have the last word - 'They're very smart, very savvy girls — don't be put off by that naive facade they have.'

-Naomi Attwood


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