Though it might not seem immediately obvious, the Rodarte sisters are the Peter Pans of the fashion world. Their worldview has always seemed to be situated from the wide-eyed perspective of a precious, imaginative adolescent, whose perception of the world is part real, part fantasy — but all optimistic. Oftentimes, it works really well — after all, fashion's strongest lever is its uplifting, transformative powers. So, when they depicted the Laura Ingalls Wilder-era prairie woman, the science-fiction ballerina, the warrior princess, they tapped into a common subconscious for romance and storytelling. But, when they use references that hit a little too close to home, the results can be a little mixed.
For its spring '14 collection, Rodarte began its inspiration with the seedier side of L.A., with ticky-tacky zebra prints, leather lady motifs, and more backward-fitted, V-cut short-shorts, tuxedo vests, and open, plaid shirts (buttoned "hood-rat" style with just the top button) than you could fit into Nasty Gal's warehouses. Assuredly, Rodarte's take on these bra tops, animal-print vests, and short-shorts are probably the smartest, chicest iterations around. But will its customers — women willing to spend upwards of a $1,000 on a pair of fringed jorts — want to appropriate a contemporary cultural stereotype of East L.A.? Maybe the better question is: Is it even in good taste to do so? Is it a "privileged white girl" move that'll inspire the same eye rolls as feathered headdresses?
Regardless of the ethical conundrums, Rodarte's attempt at doing sportswear and pieces that are more casual than ball gowns seems to be a slight struggle. Here's hoping that the label is able to recapture its childlike awe — or make the decision to grow up. Leave the in-between to those who know better.