In honor of its latest collection and almost 15 years in business, the quintessentially Californian brand staged a homecoming show to end all others
Words by CHRISTINE WHITNEY
Photography by WARD + KWESKIN
An Yves Klein-blue gown with an explosion of ruffles and an oversize bow was the final confection of Rodarte’s showstopping Fall 2019 presentation, which lands in stores in July. The head-turning ensemble was showcased as part of an exuberant runway show in February at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, adjacent to designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy’s Pasadena home. Editors from near and far and celebrities, including C’s cover star Shailene Woodley, Diane Keaton, Tracee Ellis Ross, Brie Larson and Dakota Fanning, descended on the gardens for what would be this year’s hottest ticket in Los Angeles’ fashion calendar, on par with the Gucci/LACMA fundraiser in the fall.
“It was the most beautiful light reflected through the atrium — you just can’t bottle it”
“Our grandmother was actually a docent at the Huntington Library, so we used to come down and visit, and then we moved [to the area] in our high school years,” Laura says. “Our Spring 2007 collection was based off of the Huntington, so it really felt full circle.”
Rodarte has shown in New York’s Marble Cemetery (Spring 2019) and the Cloître Port Royal garden in Paris (Spring 2018), to name a few notable venues, but this was the first time they mounted a show in their own backyard. It turns out, this event was a long time in the making. “We’ve been talking about the things that make us different, what drives our vision,” Laura says. “And California is such a huge part of that. It felt natural to want to do a show here, and it felt like a celebration of the work and our team.” The fact that this year marks the museum’s centennial made it all the more special.
The unseasonable rains (it’s poured on the Mulleavys’ past four runway shows) ended just an hour before the event, and the soaring glass-domed atrium in which they staged their production glowed with an otherworldly aura that Kate found especially poetic. “It was the most beautiful light reflected through the atrium — you just can’t bottle it,” she recalls. The space, nestled within the Huntington’s 120 acres of cacti, bonsais, roses and more, was turned into a veritable greenhouse by Alexandre de Betak and his team at Bureau Betak (which stages the top couture shows in Paris), who outfitted it with anthuriums, silver plumosa ferns, camilla branches, and delphiniums illuminated with neon lights — something of a Rodarte show signature.
There was a panoply of old Hollywood-inspired gowns and dresses (and a standout faux-fur coat in white with black bows) that recalled the glamour of the 1930s through the 1970s, with a special nod to Bob Fosse’s 1979 film, All That Jazz. They certainly didn’t skimp on the organza or tulle. In true garden party spirit, models wore elaborate headpieces created by hairstylist Odile Gilbert out of anthuriums supplied by the Mulleavys’ go-to florist, Joseph Free. Though the gardens were not a direct inspiration, there was an abundance of red, blush and lavender florals that felt very apropos — not to mention rose-shaped shoulder flounces the size of watermelons. Leather suiting met ruffles and bows, and the cumulative effect was theatrical and dream-like, garnering rapturous applause from the likes of actor Rowan Blanchard and the Haim sisters (musicians Este, Danielle and Alana) in the front row.
“Having our friends in the audience made it magical”
“A highlight, literally, was being able to drive from our house to the venue in five minutes,” Laura says. Endearingly, Kate and Laura’s father drove with them to the show — it was the first time he, a mycologist, and their artist mother have attended one of their runway presentations. “Having our parents and friends in our audience made it really magical,” Kate says. After the show, the sisters invited guests to join them for a cocktail party where rosé was served in flagons. “In the corner, my mom was with our stylist Ashley’s mom, and one of our best friends’ moms, and Kirsten [Dunst]’s mom. It was a bunch of moms in the corner,” Laura recalls of the intimate soiree.
Despite the show’s proximity to home, Rodarte has come a long way since Kate and Laura launched the line out of their parents’ guesthouse in 2005 after graduating from University of California, Berkeley. Their innovative designs quickly garnered the attention of Anna Wintour and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which awarded them the Swarovski Emerging Womenswear Designer award in 2008 and the Womenswear Designer of the Year award in 2009. Over the years, repeat visits to the Huntington gardens and nearby Norton Simon Museum, particularly its sculpture garden, have inspired many a collection.
Since its inception, the brand has been at the vanguard of the L.A. fashion scene and helped the city transform from a sartorial second fiddle to home base for the likes of Tom Ford and Hedi Slimane, and recently, the site of shows for major brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Dior. Laura says, “When we first started, L.A. was not very well received by the community of fashion as a whole, and I think that’s OK. It never hurts to be the underdog.” Now that it’s au courant to stage destination fashion presentations, Kate says: “It makes me excited every time that I hear about a show happening. What I love about design is creativity, and I think anything that spurs new ideas and experiences is vitally important and makes for a wonderful community.”
Laura adds that the city has always been a powerful force in shaping fashion trends. “Fashion in film has always been very important, and it’s always led a lot of trends, and led a lot of people into the world of dreams,” she says. “People love to come to L.A. and feel the relaxation and the general spirit of living a life surrounded by nature.”
Feature image: RODARTE’s Fall 2019 runway presentation marked the label’s first-ever Los Angeles show.
This story originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of C Magazine.