Rodarte's New Book Tackles California, Relationship of Fashion to Art

Rodarte's latest tome, created in collaboration with contemporary artists Catherine Opie and Alex Soth, offers an inventive look at how the designers' environment affects their work.

While this isn't the first time that Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the designers behind Rodarte, have experimented within the art world, the book, entitled Rodarte Catherine Opie Alex Soth, is certainly ambitious. At a recent panel at the New York Public Library, the Mulleavy sisters described the process in which the book came together: They tasked Opie and Soth with creating two separate series of photographs -- one of a "road trip" of sorts through the designers' favorite places in California (Soth), and the other a portrait series of models and friends wearing pieces from Rodarte's archives (Opie) -- all entirely independently of the other. Once the resulting work from the two projects was put together for the book, however, natural pairings emerged.

The designers credited the natural synergies with the fact that everything -- both their work and the project -- seemed so profoundly linked to the place in which it was created: California.

"I think when we started this book, we didn't really understand what California meant to us," says Laura Mulleavy. "It was through working on it that the stories and everything we started to think ... every emotion that we have, everything that we do and everything that we create is rooted in things that we've seen or had the pleasure of exploring. So doing this book was really exciting because we got to work with clothing and understand that as a landscape, as well as working with the landscape of California."

Kate Mulleavy gave, as an example, the duo's recently-unveiled collection for Spring 2012, which was inspired by the works of Van Gogh -- something that wouldn't necessarily be associated with the West Coast. As it so happens, the duo had drawn parallels between a trip to see a portrait of Van Gogh's mother at a museum and a visit to an observatory called Mount Wilson.

"When we were up there, we were looking at a telescope where they were measuring sunspots," said Kate. "And when we were doing the collection on Van Gogh, one of the things that we did was take sunspots and transformed them into sunflowers. And this connection was made between this idea of stars and Starry Night -- the connection between abstraction and space and art and an artist's brushstroke. But all of this happened because of the landscape we're in."

As for their avant-garde collections, Laura Mulleavy insisted that the pieces the sisters make created with the intention of being retail-friendly. Kate brought up the sisters' Fall 2011 collection, which many critics felt was their most commercial because of its wear-ability. "It wasn't our most commercial collection," she said. It's just that people responded to it ... If they hate it, they obviously don't think it'll sell."

The pieces Rodarte creates are "intensely personal," said Laura. "It's nothing I would wear in my day-to-day life."

Kate echoed her sentiments: "People might have a relationship with clothing and they may never wear it." 

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