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July 31 2014

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Renaissance Women: Rodarte At Pitti

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If at first it seemed perverse of Kate and Laura Mulleavy to turn their backs on the Renaissance glories of Florence in favor of an abandoned, dilapidated clothing store as the venue for the Rodarte presentation at Pitti, their decision made sense once you entered the labyrinthine space that producer Alex de Betak had customized for them with neon tubing and a huge ancient, cracked mirror. “We wanted to link the environment to what we do,” said Kate. True, the space artfully embodied Rodarte’s hermetic, sui generis personality.

Rather than Renaissance aesthetics, the Mulleavys focused on Renaissance ascetics, in particular the meditative state of heightened spirituality induced by the Fra Angelico frescoes on the walls of the monks’ cells under the Convent of San Marco. Every nook was intended to evoke those cells, in which the Rodarte gowns were suspended like serene distillations of the artist’s faded, dusty colors and delicate draperies. And a spiritual serenity was, in fact, the impression that lingered longest, perhaps because, in the past, the Mulleavys have made such an art of insinuating the barely suppressed violence of the physical world into their work.

The ten gowns were structured around a single blueprint: a sculpted torso, a long columnar skirt falling straight to the ground. The silhouette was familiar from classical art. Although Kate insisted that Hollywood couture has never been a reference for them, there was also something of the stately elegance of Adrian in this work, with an overlay of the kind of arcane, dreamlike flourishes that characterize Rodarte. A silk dress in vivid lapis blue was draped in lavender silk satin, its skirt a panel of electric blue sequins. Another dress, in dusty blue, was cross-draped with pink silk, like a couture version of Diana the Huntress. A halter-necked gown in white silk featured a torrent of white and red ruffles splitting open down its front. Hidden among the folds: molded Easter lilies, studded with pearls and crystals. The most spectacularly overwrought piece was composed of a cocoon of coppery lamé crisscrossed with huge scimitarlike feathers painted gold that floated over a skirt of white down. The whole ensemble was topped by a gold sunburst crown, one of the sculptural metal details inspired by Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.

Such an outfit was a reminder that all ten of these pieces are destined for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s permanent collection, rather than the bodies of living, breathing women. The significance of that wasn’t lost on Kate Mulleavy. She was free-associating about Carl Sagan making a record of the sounds of Earth and firing it off into space, where others would wonder at it in much the same way that she and Laura had spent five days marveling at Florentine glories that were hundreds of years in the making. In five centuries, will people be standing in front of Rodarte dresses in a similar state of transport? Pitti says yes.

Click here to see the full ten-piece collection >

Photo: Courtesy of Rodarte

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  1. Mysiolina says:

    These dresses are true masterpieces, the whole exposition is magnificent and the coppery dress with feathers is truly spectacular.

  2. siobhan629 says:

    Very well put. I find quite often that the Mulleavey’s garments, whether suspended on a human body or in mid-air, embody the “spiritual serenity” described above.
    -Siobhan Barrett of http://www.bhofp.com

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