Rodarte – Bringing Fashion and Art Together

With their Rodarte label, sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy have carved out a unique place in the fashion world. To call Rodarte a luxury fashion house just scratches the surface of what they have accomplished since they opened up shop following their graduation from the University of California at Berkeley in 2001. Kate and Laura are visionaries and storytellers, drawing from their upbringing during the 1970s when artists and hippies flocked to the warm climate of Southern California, leaving an indelible mark on our culture. Each design in a Rodarte Collection is not only a work of art with meticulous attention to detail, but each draws on a memory from the sisters’ past to create something fresh and exciting.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts celebrates Rodarte with a new exhibition that spans the first 13 years of the fashion house and includes nearly 100 complete looks as they were once presented on the runway. “Rodarte burst onto the scene in 2005, taking the fashion and art worlds by surprise with their deeply personal and conceptual approach to fashion,” said Jill D’Alessandro, guest curator of Rodarte and curator in charge of costume and textile arts, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. 

Ballet Costumes worn by Natalie Portman for The Black Swan

The show has been laid out to focus on Rodarte’s collections, grouping the fashions together with phrases that describe the clothes as well as the sensibilities behind them. There’s also a focus on films. On display are the ballet costumes worn by Natalie Portman for the Academy Award-winning film, The Black Swan, and dresses and slips worn by Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock, the 2017 feature film that the Mulleavy’s wrote and directed. There’s also a tribute to Star Wars with gowns embellished with images of characters from the films. Kate and Laura’s interest in cinematography harkens back to their childhood when they visited locations for iconic films like Vertigo. “The tension between the real landscape of California and the one projected by Hollywood has profoundly affected our perspective on creating,” Kate is quoted as saying.

Gown from Spring/Summer 2012, Chain-stitch embroidered silk/nylon blend tulle, sequins, and Swarovski crystals

No detail has been overlooked in displaying the fashions as they appeared on the runways, from head to toe, with hair design by Odile Gilbert, silk floral accessories by Josepha Free, and shoes from famous designers. Seeing the clothes up close also allows for appreciation of the painstaking work involved, whether that means hand-dyed tulle, beading, metallic yarns, embroidered nylon net, Swarovski crystals, and leather that is pin-tucked, smoked, and embellished with metal studs. Wherever the eye falls, the details are breathtaking.

Some highlights from the exhibition.

Dresses and slips worn by Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock, the 2017 feature film that the Mulleavy’s wrote and directed.

Dyed Tulle

Fall/winter 2011, dresses with digitally printed silk charmeuse

Star Wars


National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Avenue, NW
Through February 10, 2018

Photos by Charlene Giannetti

About Charlene Giannetti (321 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines including the New York Times. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her new book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "1Life After You," focusing on the opioid crisis that will be filmed in 2019. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.