Letters from New York: Rodarte at the Cooper-Hewitt


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If you’re planning a trip to New York between now and mid-March, there’s a new exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum that focuses on Pasadena residents Kate and Laura Mulleavy — they of the acclaimed U.S. fashion label Rodarte.
The exhibit delves into the Mulleavys’ unique process of creation; The sisters execute complex manipulation of materials and meticulous techniques, first deconstructing and then rebuilding the elements into high fashion.
As an example, from January’s lengthy New Yorker profile by Amanda Fortini:
“They often speak of ‘building’ a dress. To create their garments, which tend to include a multitude of textiles (and finicky ones, like tulle, organza, leather, and lace), adornments (crystals, feathers, rosettes), and techniques (draping, pleating, dyeing), the Mulleavys work with a team of three seamstresses, a pattern-maker, a dyer, a leather worker, and three knitters. One mid-length yellow chiffon dress from the 2006 fall collection took a hundred and fifty hours to complete.”

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The exhibition in New York is an opportunity to view, up close, their intense craftsmanship.
The sisters speak frequently of the influence California — especially, growing up in Northern California near Santa Cruz and then settling in Pasadena — has had on their artistry and design. (Actually, in terms of speaking, that duty falls mostly to Kate, because, as noted in the New Yorker, “Kate doesn’t drive, so Laura drives her everywhere, and the payback is that Kate has to speak.”)
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In that profile, Fortini dines locally with the Mulleavys at the Raymond, “their favorite restaurant in Pasadena.” And in an earlier interview with Rachel K. Ward of Gravure Magazine, Kate talks about The Huntington:
“Laura and I were always really obsessed with ‘pink perfection,’ one of the oldest Camellia trees in California.  The Huntington estate was built on that property because of that tree.  It’s really amazing to see the left over railroad systems that were used to have all the art brought in on trains that led up to the house.”
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But, as they reaffirmed in their recent runway show at New York Fashion Week, they have not endeavored to be quintessentially West Coast artists. Kate told Gravure:
“I think we never really polarized the difference between New York or L.A. in our minds; we always wanted to show in New York because was always associated it with the tradition of American fashion.  But in terms of considering ourselves New York, or L.A. , it was never really a question. It was almost like a combination of the two, which is American.”

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“Quicktake: Rodarte” will be on view at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum through March 14. 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue, New York City. 212-849-8300, cooperhewitt.org
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(Photos by Carmel Wilson/Cooper-Hewitt and Mimi Ritzen Crawford/Getty Images)

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