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Daily Context: MAC & Rodarte's "Juarez" Collab Sparks Controversy

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Rodarte is a label known for bold collections that often seem more art than fashion, but a collaboration with MAC spun off the label's fall collection recently pushed the boundaries of artistic license.

    Kate and Laura Mulleavy's fall collection for Rodarte was inspired by the border town of Juarez -- a complex subject, to be sure, and the designers paid tribute to its troubling complexities by making "sleepwalking" the primary focus of the collection, which tied together the early-rising factory workers and the overall dream-like nature of the area. While the idea of basing a collection around a locale with so many dark issues might not make sense to everyone, the Rodarte sisters didn't become cult designers (and CFDA winners to boot) by picking conventional -- or even positive -- subjects as inspiration. (Case in point: Rodarte's bizarre and wonderful tribute to the space race, a "techno-thriller" short film featuring the label's spring collection.)

    What's more, anyone who bore witness to the resulting fall collection can testify that the presentation was eerie, trance-like, and breathtaking -- a parade of pale-faced models wearing a  mix of patchworked dresses and dreamy, tattered white lace dresses, giving the effect of ghostly brides. Even Style.com caught the reference that these girls could even be seen as "the ghosts of the victims of Juarez's drug wars." Yet still, the presentation -- and the designers' motivations -- seemed more in the vein of serene tribute than commercialization. It was a moving spectacle -- not one to be taken lightly.

    The collection was so memorable, it makes sense that a makeup brand like MAC would seek to capitalize on its impact, creating for fall a collaborative line of cosmetics. Unfortunately, it was in this leap that an artistic statement took a turn towards commercialization, and worse still MAC and Rodarte made the choice to market makeup like a nail polish called "Factory" and "Juarez" (a frosty pink). Naturally, critics pounced -- the Frisky called it "tasteless," pointing to the collaboration's capitalization on the stuggles of young women in the area -- and the resulting backlash against the line was so strong that MAC has since announced a plan to donate a portion of the proceeds to an as-yet-unnamed Juarez charity in an effort to thwart the angry tide.

    The biggest takeaway from the debacle, however, has less to do with Juarez than the growing capitalization of artistic fashion. Rodarte is a cult hit among insiders and fans of fashion alike because they don't bend to retail's rules. They create extraordinary pieces of clothing that often have price tags that defy any sense of retail market appeal -- think cobweb-knit sweaters for thousands of dollars -- and as such have earned high marks for placing a belief in fashion over retail. As such, retail-focused brands are chomping at the bit to collaborate with them, and of course collaborations are, increasingly, where artistic design labels like Rodarte end up making the money necessary to keep afloat. This instance, however, proves that sometimes art is better left to art. It's a much more complicated endeavor than one thinks to try and transform that art into something that can be sold in a bottle.