The Rodarte Sisters Talk Spring 2013, Don Giovanni, And What’s Next

Last Thursday, hot on the heels of their much-buzzed-about Spring 2013 collection, Rodarte‘s Kate and Laura Mulleavy ascended from the chaos of Lincoln Center to sit down for a Q+A session at the top of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The Californian sisters spoke with a small group about the favorite parts of their job, the experience of working on the L.A Philharmonic‘s production of Don Giovanni, and how, exactly, they translated their inspiration of medieval, fantasy role-playing games to the edgy, critically-lauded collection that took the runway by siege just last week.

Laura on Rodarte’s Spring 2013 collection:

For us it was the fantasy element that turned it into something less of what you would think of as medieval armor, with all the heavy fabrications and dark colors. So it was taking the darker elements and pairing them with a color palette that was more fantastical, things that maybe you would see on trading cards. I feel like we wanted to include a kind of 80s color palette, so there was a large combination of things that we were playing with. If you see the textiles up close you can see there are different motifs and combinations of leather and embroidery with gunmetal beading in them. I feel like our colors were the key element we were playing into — like pastels that we were taking from the idea of Botticelli and dark green and things like that.

Kate on the biggest challenge they faced this season:

We had spent a lot of time working on Don Giovanni and that was almost a year long process of working intensely with different creative collaborators. We had just finished the run of opening night and the performances and that was a huge undertaking because not only did we make the costumes, but we were running the backstage. It was a full costume design experience. It’s interesting — you enter into a world and there’s kind of a sadness when you leave. You know, you’ve spent all of this time with the opera singers and with Frank and with all the other creatives and its just moving out of that and having to immediately jump into something that you have to have a lot of ideas for — I think that itself was the challenge this season.

Laura on designing for stage versus designing for yourself:

People always ask ‘who do you design for?’ And I feel like as a designer it’s strange — even though we don’t tend to wear our own clothes, which is a question we get asked a lot, too, but we are designing for ourselves. It’s a form of self-expression and I think you’re trying to share something with people. So when you work on doing costumes you’re designing to help the person who’s inhabiting the character become that character, you’re trying to tell the story, and it’s not necessarily just your vision. We’ve been lucky enough to work on projects where people really want our vision at the forefront but in this sense it’s still ‘Can this performer become this character?’ ‘What’s the story we’re telling?’ You know, with Mozart you obviously were starting with a really big story, so it’s a different experience but equally challenging and interesting.

Laura on her favorite part of being a designer:

I like the challenging parts. I just feel like we’re really good at doing things last minute and under pressure. I feel like that’s when our creativity comes out the most. So when we really feel like ‘Ok we’ve got this last month.’ We always have amazing ideas two weeks before a show and the challenge is to figure out how to make them. And everyone gets mad at us but I feel like that’s my favorite part because it’s this huge adrenaline rush that happens and the creativity that comes out because you’re just thinking every five seconds instead of sporadically. I feel the most confident during that period because you are just working to execute things.

Kate on their favorite part of their latest collection:

I think we’re both really attached to the fringe stuff we did. There’s just something about it, I don’t know. It’s a really personal thing.

On what’s next for Rodarte:

Laura: For us, we’re just kind of focusing on our own collections. We don’t have any collaborations that we’re working on so I think it’s going to be a really focused time for us in terms of our own growth. So that’s exciting. But for us, we never plan anything, like doing the opera — things like that just kind of come into our lives. So I always say we’re not going to be doing something and then a month later I’m like ‘Oh, I guess that changed.’

Kate: We did do the archival shoot, but I don’t know if we can say who that was for yet (publicist shakes her head) but you can know soon. It’s really beautiful and it covers all of our collections.

Kate on her relationship with each passing collection:

I think there’s a period of time where you love the thing that you’ve done last and then you kind of move away from it. So you have this love affair and then you break up. And then years later hopefully you have something that makes you nostalgic for it.

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