February 15, 2010 New York
Welcome to Rodarte's latest trip. Before their show, the sisters explained that a long drive from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, got them thinking they might like to explore their Mexican roots. From there, they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night. And that, according to the designers, who certainly know how to romance a pitch, led to this conclusion: They'd build a collection off the idea of sleepwalking.
That concept gave the show its arts-and-crafts, naïve, almost random quality. Dresses were patchworked together from floral chiffons, vintage lace, burnout velvets, and other salvaged bits from the imagined maquiladoras' floors and then draped with narrow, twisting swaths of fabric or strands of pearls. The country cousins of their now-famous cobweb sweaters, this season's knits had an even quirkier charm, resembling as they did crocheted doilies and hook rugs fringed with long strands of yarn. Shearling jackets, too, got the Rodarte treatment, embroidered here and there with what looked like tufts of goat hair. The show ended with a quartet of ethereal, unraveling, rather beautiful white dresses that alternately called to mind quinceañera parties, corpse brides, and, if you wanted to look at it through a really dark prism, the ghosts of the victims of Juárez's drug wars.
As at Marc Jacobs, however, serenity, not darkness, was the abiding impression, abetted by a soundtrack of pop standards like "Blue Moon." What was interesting about the Mulleavys' latest dreamworld was how playful it felt compared to the blood-and-guts ferocity of their outing last September. Under the dark light during the finale, the models' candlestick heels suddenly glowed as if lit. The Rodarte vision is still a rarefied one, remote for the most part from the real day-to-day question of what to wear now, and the patchwork effect wasn't as convincingly executed as at their previous show, but it was nice to see the sisters lighten up.