Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An uncertain future...


For the last year, Rodarte has been among the few New York collections that I (and plenty of others inside and outside of the industry) look forward to seeing, so much so that it's among the most highly anticipated shows of New York Fashion Week. It's amazing to think that it's only been about three years since Kate and Laura Mulleavy began showing their collection. In that time they've quickly established signatures such as streaky, handpainted fabrics reminiscent of watercolor, airy, ethereal dresses in gauzey silks, quirky textural embellishments and fabric combinations and colorful, cobwebby knits that look like they're ready to fall apart. With all of these signatures, they've also become known for their craft and their way with pulling disperate, very unexpected inspirations and melding them into a strangely beautiful look. One would imagine that having their work so heavily scrutinized might get to them, make them feel the pressure, but if their work is anythig to go by they seem completely unaffected by all the attention. They've continued to evolve their work gradually, pulling one or two elements from one collection and mixing into the next.

I really think you need to see the clothes in person to appreciate how beautiful they are. After finally making it my business to treck up to Barney's this winter I got to see bits of the F/W 08 runway collection in person and let me just say, it didn't disappoint. There are such tiny little details, sequined panels on the underlayers of a skirt, beading outlining the zipper on sheer gauze and the seams on a shoulder, that you don't always notice in the runway pictures. And those cobweb knits! They were incredibly soft, and the mix of yarns looked very cool up close. Their clothes are really a visual pleasure.

Last season saw the Mulleavys adding some sharp, graphic elements into their ethereal repertoire. Shown with their signature floaty, handpainted dresses were razor sharp metallic wrap skirts, skin tight patchwork tops and cutout latex thigh highs. Unknown to anyone at the time, that would be the direction they would take for fall. In favor of their normally soft lines the silhouette for all 35 looks was short, sharp and structured, softly a line in the skirt and fitted in the top. With each look they paired crotch high leather boots that were uckled and wrapped from ankle to thigh (courtesy of Nicholas Kirkwood). At this point the shoes that they have designed for their collections are almost as eagerly anticipated as the collection itself. Some of the looks included fitted leather jackets with marble prints and straps lashing the body a la Edward Scissorhands, but with the exception of those few jackets and some shaggy knitwear the look was consistent from start to finish. The inspirations were as interesting and varied as ever. The main idea was deconstruction and reconstruction, and that definitely played into Kate and Laura's love of collage-like construction. Specific references included demolished buildings, aerial photographs of city streets, organic surfaces and, the best reference of them all, Frankenstein.

That's one of the most interesting things about a Rodarte collection, the inspirations are so random and strange, but when you see the clothes all you can think is "Oh!". What doesn't make any sense at all in writing makes perfect sense in fabric. The demolished buildings meant that the sisters would silk screen silks and leathers to look like cracked stone and use textures that look like crushed bits of concrete and debris. The aerial cityscapes? They took shape in pieces that used a patchwork of curving pieces that actually did look like criss crossing city streets. Some even included a streak of yellow that recalled the painted lane dividers on a highway. And Frankenstein? Well once you know the reference that one's pretty easy. The way that all of the fabrics, mis-matched textures and slightly off colors were pieced together was taken right from the Monster's crude patchwork of skin. Plenty of designers channel movies as inspiration, but few of them can count Japanese slasher flicks, Star Wars and Universal's horror classic among their source material. The color palette started in neutral shades of stony beige and gray with bits of cream and moved into shiny black with streaks of electric blue or shiny copper and ended with vibrant emerald greens, bits of yellow, lilac and pale aqua combined with cooler shades of gray.

What the collection lacked in variety it more than made up for in impact. This was a new Rodarte, sharp, tough and with a heavy undercurrent of dystopian Sci-Fi. It was definitely new territory for the sisters, but it was also completely within the vocabulary they've built for their label which is something that shouldn't be undervalued. Their ability to stick to their guns while gently moving it forward is one of their strengths. While I love the collection though, I do think they should have broken up the look a bit. I'm sure that there are other pieces that were made for retail that just weren't included on the runway, and they've already shown that they can make great separates that are in keeping with their artistic approach to fashion design, and while I love the impact of the lineup I do wonder why they wouldn't want to show those other pieces. So where this collection falls short on wardrobe options, it's a great progression for the Rodarte aesthetic.

Narciso Rodriguez

I first fell in love with Narciso Rodriguez around 2003 which was about the same time that a huge amount of buzz was centered around him and his particular brand of razor sharp, curvy and oh-so-sexy minimalism. He quickly became known for elaborately seamed coats traced in piping, below the knee pencil thin sheath dresses, skin baring cut outs and simple but sensual evening gowns. It seemed like every starlett in Hollywood was wearing Narciso, and rightly so. His stuff was modern and incredibly flattering. Then around 2005/05 he began to play with volume, adding softness to his rigorous lines, playing more with bold color and experimenting with proportions. Even though I didn't really love the collections from the 05/06/07 era, I can at least recognize that he was smart to evolve as fashion did. But in 2007 fashion changed again, returning to shapes that were more body conscious with bondage-inspired detailing as well as getting rid of the heavy embellishment that reigned supreme in favor of cleaner silhouettes with minimal detail. But Rodriguez continued doing looser fits, boxy shapes and empire waists. It probably didn't help that at the same time he lost his financial backing. The last few seasons, Spring 2009 in particular, have not met my expectations for a Narciso Rodriguez collection. In wanting to broaden his range by playing with prints, softer lines and a more relaxed feeling, I honestly think he lost his touch, and the Fall/Winter 09 collection did virtually nothing to reassure me that the old Narciso is still present and accounted for. It started out promisingly enough with some of his elaborately simple coats and separates in beige, black and white. Granted a great white sheath on Raquel was paired with opaque white tights (a very poor styling choice), but it seemed like, even if it wouldn't be exactly like the old Narciso, it might be close. But then he sent out a lemon yellow t-shirt dress paired with matching tights and shoes followed soon after by a lemon yellow bandage dress with matching tights and shoes. Now, the color itself wasn't what bothered me, but I HATE when designers do the whole head-to-toe color thing. I hated it when Riccardo Tisci was obsessed with it and I hate it now that Narciso's caught on. It's so distracting, and honestly it's too much of an impact. But still, the pieces were looking good. A beautiful yellow skirt suit was worn with solid black tights and some kind of black bondagey top underneath. A black coat had some of that signature Narciso piping at the shoulder and collar.

But then he sent out not just one of the ugliest dresses I've seen him make, but one of the ugliest dresses I've ever seen. A black white and gray camo print (just like the one your resident High School death-metal loving badass might wear with his Rob Zombie t shirt) with a net overlay and a deflated bubble skirt. It was a WTF moment that I just didn't see coming and was a sign of what would follow. After that he sent out a look in a head to toe mutant cow print, and perched on the model's head was an upside down bucket with slits for the eyes. The print looked awful and the hat was straight out of Fat Albert. It was the kind of ridiculousness I would never have expected from the designer who used to be the king of icy urban perfection. A few of the looks were worn with that idiotic looking headgear and unfortunately it not only distracted from the clothes, it kind of dragged them down as well. Then he sent out another reminder of what he's actually capable of, though in a color he never would've used in the old days; a neon coral bandage dress worn with a matching zipped shrug with overlong thumb-hole sleeves. I really detest the color, but the look itself is fantastic. He also sent out some nice pieces with shiny gray insets worked into the black fabric. But then came more ugliness. A black and midnight blue shift with a cutout at the bust looked good enough but there was a useless looking little frill around the neck. A classic sheath with a harness neck and cutout bust was ruined because the boobs were covered in more of that heinous camo print. Tight fitted neon dresses with some kind of lace overlay looked cheap and frankly were more along the lines of what someone like Alexander Wang would do. And the final three looks? One was more WTF then the next. A black shiny bodice (I'm pretty sure it's sequins) had a limply draped skirt that would only look appropriate paired with ice skates and a gay skating partner. That sequined bodice showed also showed as the top to two other dresses, one with a skirt in that neon coral color and another in red. Both were worn over white tights. Pairing those white tights (which were bad enough) with that neon coral was the last in a string of bad decisions within the collection. Gone was the sophistication, the coolness, the chicness and in their place was a disjointed mess.

Now, I can't really blame Narciso, he's having more trouble with his backers and it certainly shows in the collection. I'm just hoping that business wise he finds his feet and realizes that right now, with all of the tight, sharp, aggressively sexy stuff going on in fashion he should be in his element.

All photos from

1 comment:

La Fée said...

rodarte is always wonderful...