'Rodarte does Couture' has been ringing around the internet, with their very short lived installation of ten dresses, culminating the festivities of Pitti. Yet if truth be told, hasn't that always been the way ever since the self-taught Mulleavy sisters began by dragging a suitcase of hand-made dresses around New York and their couture leanings have always been evident in the pieces that I saw in person, with hand-this and hand-that seared into every stitch and seam.
In a disused shop front, together with Alexandre de Betak, Rodarte created a series of neon-lit cells that fluttered along with the soundtrack (best seen on Bureau Betak's blog) to provide a serene illuminated cocoon to these ten dresses created exclusively for Pitti W. They cited Bernini's The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in Rome and Fra Angelico's frescoes in the monk's cells in the depths of the Convent of San Marco in Florence but further in the sisters' background, their art history education at University of Berkeley and their Italian-descended grandmother, an opera singer from Rome who made her own costumes, lingered to make this Florentine reverie an installation that was throbbing with personal ties and feeling.
The fluttering romance that I saw in their very early collections actually reverbed in these draped column-like dresses that borrowed the curves and generosity of material from Bernini's sculpture. The abundance of soft silk georgette in those chalky pastel colours that were influenced by the colours of Fra Angelico's frescoes, also for me echoed that iconic 1948 Cecil Beaton photo of Charles James' gowns (known as America's first couturier), even if the Mulleavys insist that clothing references from the past never really influence their work. The combination of dusty blue silk georgette with a pink silk satin was particularly alluring. I was also struck by their desire to attain hand-embellished perfection, something that is less of a focal point now in their more recent collections but made them stand out in the beginning of their career. I therefore had to hone in on those details consisting of arrangements of feathers, cluters of beading to weight pleats down, clusters of beads surrouning hand molded Easter Lillies, hammered sequins and the stunning metal breast plates, pleated and melted into sun rays splaying out from the torso. I felt quite honoured to be able to luxuriate in all of that up close as well as seeing the dresses change under the varying intensity of light making the installation a lot more than just a few dresses hanging static in a room.
It's difficult to read this collection in the context of Rodarte's mainline trajectory and I don't think it's meant to be. Pitti seems to afford designers the chance to do something one-off, temporal and unique in its proposition and in a way, entirely cut-off from commercial ties. It is fitting therefore that the ten dresses will be going over to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art even if I wouldn't mind having my curiosity satisfied with the reality of seeing these dresses on real, live women.
Autumn de Wilde who provided the select shots of the installation (as credited above) was outside documenting some of the guests with her polaroid camera. I look forward to seeing some of them Tumblr-ed up on her oft-updated visual treat of a blog (I GET Tumblr when sources are credited or if they're all original works...).
On a last photographic note, the event also saw the launch of Rodarte's first monograph, Rodarte, Catherine Opie, Alec Soth which should be out soon. A sneak peek on the publisher JRP/Ringier's site looks beautifully promising...