August 30 2014

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Kate and Laura Mulleavy Miss Their Record Collection


Last month, Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy became the first Americans ever to win the coveted Stella Award given out by the Swiss Textiles association. As well as floating a cool €100,000 the Mulleavys’ way, the award served to confirm what many fashion followers already knew about the sisters’ line: Rodarte is sui generis. Of course, they still live in their parents’ house in Pasadena. It may be a long way, both geographically and psychologically, from New York, but on a good day it’s a 20-minute drive from downtown L.A., a place where much of the brass-tacks work of fashion gets done; the Rodarte studio in Los Angeles is a hop-skip from the showrooms of the Cooper Building and the many factories where jeans are made. It’s a curious thing to discover Laura and Kate Mulleavy amid of all that commerce, cooling their heels at side-by-side desks and humming along to the theme song from Peanuts. But that was exactly the scene on the day stopped by for a studio visit. Here, they talk to us about pirate ships, misfits, and records playing in their heads.

I have to ask: The theme song from Peanuts?

Kate Mulleavy: This is the secret to L.A.; you listen to music from Peanuts. We realized it last night, driving—it was late, and the Peanuts theme was playing, and it’s like the whole city was transformed.

Laura Mulleavy: We passed a pirate ship. That was magical.

A pirate ship? Never mind—I’m not even going to ask.

LM: Yeah, it was weird.

Consolations of Peanuts and pirate ships aside, what keeps you in Southern California? You’re probably the only L.A.-based designers who could thrive in Paris, and on the other hand, the fashion community in New York would freak out with excitement if you decided to relocate.

KM: I think we’ve been really lucky in that we’re allowed to be a part of the New York fashion community, but because we’re based here, we also get to have our community in L.A. This is kind of a city of misfits, which I like. Once you get outside the whole Hollywood thing…

LM: You find these other scenes popping up on the side. L.A. has a very close-knit art scene, for instance. Everyone flocks together.

KM: And anyway, we have such a strong connection to California. We grew up here, we both went to Berkeley, and honestly, we really like Pasadena.

What about it do you like? I’m not trying to be condescending, but from an outsider’s perspective, Pasadena equals plain old, vanilla suburbia.

KM: It is suburbia. In fact, it’s the oldest suburb in America. But Pasadena is also, you know, nuts.

LM: There’s a Parsons in Pasadena, but it’s the Parsons where rocket fuel was invented. And there’s the Sierra Madre observatory, where Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding. Interesting stuff happens in Pasadena.

KM: Alastair Crowley and Kenneth Anger used to hang out there, with the rocket-fuel guy, in fact.

Does any of that inform your work? I’ve always suspected that part of the reason you’ve stayed in Pasadena is so you can maintain your creative privacy, but maybe I’m wrong and you’re actually drawing on its hotbed energy of the interplanetary and the occult.

LM: Yeah, right. I mean, Pasadena is also a place where the big celebrity at the restaurant where I used to work was the local news weather guy. And I have to tell you I was psyched to see him. There is definitely no fashion scene. So there is a kind of privacy. And when we’re designing our collections; there’s always that one month before we show where the insularity becomes very important. Just that one month, when there’s nothing else—only work. Everyone has their own way of concentrating quietly. They have a country house, say…

KM: Or a freeway and a garden, like us.

LM: I’m not sure I could concentrate quietly in New York. Everyone always says to us: God, you guys never take any vacations. But maybe we don’t need a vacation, because we get to come back to the West Coast and just, sort of, breathe. You know?

The previous question was really a roundabout way of asking: Where do you source inspiration? Your influences are hard to read.

LM: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Movies, art, stuff we see day-to-day. Like, the other day we were on the highway and we saw a car that was half blue, half white. It was really odd; something you’d definitely notice. And at the time, we happened to be in the middle of an argument about color, and that car kind of settled it, right there. Blue.

KM: Or, right now we’re obsessed with these colored gels, fills for cameras. You can get a whole book of them, like paint samples, and there’s something mesmerizing about flipping through.

LM: We’ll be looking at something like that, like the gels, and maybe that generates an idea like, let’s do graphic color. That might come off as random when you see it on the runway, but really we’re just working off our environment, stuff we’ve got lying around.

Do you share a brain? You both talk as if you do.

LM: We bicker about minor, miniscule stuff: why did you put that pen over there?

KM: But mostly we get along. And there’s a lot we don’t even need to talk about, really. Our mom was just telling us, you know, maybe there are some things you ought to say out loud. But, like, there was never a conversation about deciding we’d be designers. We both just knew.

I read somewhere that you funded your first collection by selling Kate’s vinyl collection to Amoeba Records. Are there any records you regret giving up?

KM: Oh, man. I can’t even talk about this.

LM: I had to sell the records. Boxes and boxes, I made so many trips out of that Amoeba basement in Hollywood. And the guy there seriously could not believe that the collection belonged to a girl.

KM: Which is really infuriating.

LM: Like in college, the way guys would be weirded out if you had a lot of different kinds of books, as though having varied taste is a gender-specific thing.

KM: I’m getting mad about this all over again.

LM: We only have one record now. I mean, except for the Elvis our dad pulled out before I went to sell, and the copies of Fantasia and Snow White we kept. Our friend Autumn de Wilde was shooting The Raconteurs, and she brought us back a signed copy of the record.

Now that Rodarte is established, maybe you can start collecting again.

KM: Maybe. I’d like to. On the other hand, I spent years putting that collection together, and music, you know, it’s so attached to memory. And maybe getting rid of the records helped me figure out that I have the memories, so I don’t need the objects.

LM: Everything’s saved in our heads.


Photo: Greg Kessler



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