It’s been two and a half years since sisters and designers Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte participated in New York Fashion Week, with their spring ‘19 collection. Even back then, they had already taken an extended hiatus from the New York schedule, with T Magazine calling that 2018 show the designers’ “dramatic return to New York.”
Rodarte first left the schedule in 2017 to show during Paris Couture Week. According to W Magazine, the designers say the couture environment led them to view fashion shows as theatre performance and an opportunity to show people how to understand the ideas behind their clothes. “A change of setting really can affect the way you view what you do and how you want to showcase it,” they told the publication.
Since then, the designers have hosted events in Los Angeles, where they’re based, and also released lookbooks in lieu of shows. The brand’s spring ‘20 lookbook featured individuals such as Kristen Dunst, Yalitza Aparicio, Gabrielle Union, Lili Reinhart, King Princess, and the Haim sisters among others. Maybe it wasn’t a fashion show but it for sure got a lot of buzz.
Since its debut in 2005, the brand has struggled to balance artistry and commerciality while big-name critics have openly expressed their skepticism. In 2016, Robin Givhan of The Washington Post questioned its existence, writing, “Rodarte is the work of two wildly imaginative designers who dream up impractical clothes. They have a forceful point of view, but there is slight evidence of their commercial growth.” It was around that same time that stores stopped stocking their beautiful clothes, opting for their trendy “Radarte” merch instead, which became a fan favourite of celebrities like Emma Watson, Rihanna, and Beyoncé, but are a far cry from the imaginative, masterful craftsmanship of the spiderweb knits and frothy dresses the brand became famous for.
So, why the return to NY when the week, according to many top publications like Vogue Business, Quartz, and BOF, is becoming less relevant to participate in? Ahead of their upcoming show, the Mulleavys told W this month that they let a collection dictate where and how it should be shown. “What is the best way to share this with the world?” This time, the duo felt like the collection would benefit from being shown in New York, in what’s sadly a rare vote of confidence in NYFW.
“We knew what the show was — the theme and the clothes that we were going to build and the feeling and the mood — and it really felt like it's just where it needed to be.” For the Mulleavys, New York has always been an inspiring place, regardless of where their brand has taken them. While some might say Rodarte’s inconsistency is hard to keep up with, others might see their malleability as a sign of flexibility, especially in an industry that too often relies on pack mentality to chase trends.