In a rare public appearance on Wednesday night, the sisters of Rodarte, who rank among the most famous and celebrated American fashion designers today, discussed their first endeavor into the book world. Held at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, Kate and Laura Mulleavy were joined on stage by photographers Catherine Opie and Alec Soth, who contributed to the project.
“We wanted something more out of the box than just a fashion book,” explained Kate when asked what brought about the collaboration with Opie and Soth, who both admitted to having little experience in fashion. “You're approaching these artists and your interest is what they're going to do with it.”
Titled Rodarte, Catherine Opie, Alec Soth, the book features Rodarte pieces and the subject matter that has inspired their work.
Based in Los Angeles and founded in 2005, Rodarte is a widely acclaimed fashion brand and often seen on the red carpet. Recently, the sister's costume design talents were showcased in Darren Aronofsky's film Black Swan, and then displayed in a special exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Inside the Billy Wilder Theater, the unassuming sisters took the stage before a packed audience and talked passionately about their limited edition book.
“When we are designing clothes or a collection or a dress,” said Kate, explaining one of the reasons for the book, “there is so much more that we could talk about.”
The book features the Mulleavy sisters' design influences from their native Southern California upbringing, with Opie shooting studio portraits of their high-end garments. Kate and Laura incorporated photos by Soth, which were taken by the photographer on a two-week road trip that visited illuminating places of the sister's California childhood.
“[The book project] helped us learn to enjoy what we have done,” said Laura. “Fashion is an interesting career because you do things so quickly — this showed us how things are really related.”
“I wanted to imagine their world and not enter it,” adds Soth about his participation in the project. “Through the process of not meeting [the Mulleavy sisters], I took over these people that I had imagined.”
Opie had access to archived garments from the 2008 to 2010 collections, which she used for her photos. The book even features her son, Oliver, an elementary schoolboy and aspiring fashion designer, who received a dress form to practice on from the Mulleavy sisters as payment.
The playful photographer wasn't afraid to push gender boundaries by placing male models in couture dresses. “A man wearing a dress is a familiar concept for me,” joked Opie, ” and so I wanted to throw a gender-fuck in there.”
Soth, who had not met the sisters before the night's discussion, was sent a list of what the sisters grew up around, and inherently drew inspiration from, in Southern California.
Punk Rock, Joshua Tree, Star Wars, self-mutilation, horror films and California Condors were some of the subjects he went out to photograph.
“The California Condor was particularly challenging,” said Soth, “so I needed a backup and went to a university where they had a dead one in a drawer.”
The completion — and inevitable success — of the book already has the sisters looking forward to working on similar projects in the future.
“There is a reason we love horror films,” said Kate. “We love the sequels.”