With its avant-garde homespun aesthetic and ethereal eveningwear, Rodarte is normally considered a highlight of New York Fashion Week, an event better known for commercial sportswear than creative bravura. But this has been a peculiar event, with more than one designer delivering a low-risk, (they hope) sure-sale collection. In spite of the fact that several influential American fashion critics have lauded the Rodarte collection as some kind of breakthrough for sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, loving it is a pretty big ask. That’s not to say there were not a couple of pretty pieces. Supposedly inspired by the northern Californian outdoors, a clever, collaged wood grain print was used in a terrific shift dress with deconstructed sleeves and a shell top with stiffened peplum; and there is one striking blazer, also with a stiffened pannier peplum, in a Delft China-like blue microprint. But to frockwriter’s eye, the rest of the collection looks like a snafu of plaid, gold brocade, kimonos, cheongsams and togas – the kind of costumes that Maria Von Trapp might have whipped up for Ridley Scott’s next swords and sandals epic.
“Kate and Laura Mulleavy are in total command of making wearable fashion” noted WWD. While The LA Times’ Booth Moore hit the nail on the head when she noted, “It was undoubtedly their most commercial outing yet”.
According to The New York Times’ Cathy Horyn, who described the collection as “undoubtedly a hit of New York Fashion Week”, editors, buyers and The Lord of The Rings star Elijah Wood rushed to congratulate the designers post-show.
Some of Horyn’s readers do not seem to share this enthusiasm.
“Wouldn’t wear this stuff to a dogfight”.Bob from Philadelphia:
“Maybe Frodo thought he was escaping Mordor. The model looks like an elf-Ent hybrid, clad in fabric remnants from a Trolls' quilting bee”.WSS:
“These aren't fashions that any woman would wear. They're nightmares”.And Hutton:
“I did not know that they had a licensing agreement with Project Runway”.
To be sure, these are still difficult times in retail.
Although US retail sales are improving, consumer confidence has been extremely slow to recover. In spite of last year’s CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year award, red carpet buzz and a star turn as ballet costumiers in the new Darren Aronofsky film Black Swan starring Natalie Portman, Rodarte reportedly boasts a mere US$2million turnover and has incurred losses. Speculation continues to mount that LVMH may acquire equity.
You have to wonder to what degree the recent controversy over the brand's Fall 2010 collection may have rattled not only their cashflow - but their confidence.
The collection was inspired by a Mexican road trip and notably the drug violence-shattered border town of Ciudad Juarez, the epicentre of the Mexican drug war, which has claimed the lives of almost 30,000 people since President Felipe Calderon commenced a crackdown on drug cartels in December 2006.
Not that the Juarez connection appears to have caused much, if any, fuss in reviews of the runway collection in February. But when MAC chose that specific Rodarte collection as the springboard for a beauty JV, even flippantly calling two nail polishes “Juarez” and “Factory”, it was the blogosphere that called the collab out, led by The Frisky’s Jessica Wakeman, who asked:
“Juarez is an impoverished Mexican factory town notorious for the number of women between the ages of 12 and 22 who have been raped and murdered with little or no response from police. Most of the young women are employees at the border town’s factories, called maquiladoras, and disappeared on the way to or from work.... Why would MAC and Rodarte — which are both hip, with-it brands — name their nail polishes so tastelessly? Even if they were donating the proceeds to justice for Juarez victims’ families (and I haven’t read that they are), it’s a weird way to raise awareness about violence against women. What’s next, a lipstick called Bergen-Belsen?”
After a public apology and an offer to donate partial proceeds to Juarez victims, MAC pulled the plug on the beauty collection last month.
all images: getty via daylife