At a recent Robert Rauschenberg exhibition, Rodarte's Laura and Kate Mulleavy had the experience of "being hit over the head with visual impact," and they set out to do the same with their spring collection. The sisters, CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists, are passionate—even obsessive—about the construction of their clothes, and it showed in details large and small, such as bow collars, handmade flowers, and feather appliqués. Almost everything in this collection was exaggerated in terms of volume and finish. Keen students of the eighteenth-century painter Thomas Gainsborough, the Mulleavys sent out pieces that recalled sartorial conceits of yore, like panniers and infanta-style skirts, and they attached an obi-like appendage to the back of an appliquéd gown.

The result of all this was a collection that might not have looked out of place in a classic Irving Penn spread, but what of its position in the modern world? Many in the audience—including Karen Elson and Sarah Sophie Flicker—were wearing dresses from Rodarte's previous spring collection, and they couldn't have looked chicer. This time around, there were fewer viable real-life options. (One exception was a lean, mean pant in black or deep pink, paired with a white blouse). Still, the balance between art and wearability is something these talented designers should have plenty of time to perfect in the future.