“Sometimes I feel like it’s futuristic to go into the past.” Sometimes fashion quotes like that one, from Kate Mulleavy, seem to make little sense—but what she was talking about after the beautifully feminine Rodarte show was the powerful effect of taking time to read poetry, and then seeing how it works on your creativity. She and her sister, Laura, spent the summer immersing themselves in Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, and Leonard Cohen, while listening to Electric Light Orchestra’s early synthesized, sparkly music. It seems to have put them into a kind of a ’70s-nostalgic trance from which their best collection in a long time proceeded—a kind of soft glam-rock tenderly sewn into immensely intricate lace dresses, trailing long silk scarves and an aura of Old Hollywood glitter in its wake.
Whatever therapy reading poetry offers the soul, it seems to have refocused the Mulleavys on what they do best and believe in most, giving them the heart to fully concentrate on the art of dressmaking, which has always been at their fingertips, but has, at times, drifted from their grasp in the crosscurrents of other pop-cultural seasonal notions. This time, though, their promise was realized in a head-spinningly light and complex series of collages of lace, velvet, embroidery, beading, and silk fringing, cut into Victoriana bodices and swinging gently out from small waists to touch the knee. Such lavish techniques can easily lead to heaviness or a sense of inauthentic costumey-ness, but this was a fully realized and believable fashion look. Down to the black lacy tights, down to the truly enviable gold, silver, and colored suede Deco shoes, it read as a young woman’s interpretation of what it might take to have a really good night out on the town: non-uptight dressing for maybe dancing and lounging languidly around on couches who knows where.
It wasn’t all dresses, either. What with the floppily louche lamé pantsuits, big shearling chubbies, and some sexy, bugle-beaded miniskirts with flower appliqués curving dangerously upward in the front, this was a collection that achieved the range that has also eluded the Mulleavys till now. Did it move fashion on? Probably not. But as far as Rodarte is concerned, looking to its own past brought out what will stick in memory as one of the most soulfully authentic collections in New York.
Written by Sarah Mower for Style.com