Rodarte: States of Matter

Call me picky, but when I see the word "exhibit", I expect to see more than a couple of rooms and a handful of dresses. Unfortunately, that's exactly what I got when I went to the Rodarte: States of Matter exhibition now on view at the MOCA Pacific Design Center. Two rooms submerged in pitch black darkness, a pile of strobe lights, some Rodarte dresses floating eerily in midair--this looked more like an art student's venture than a curated exhibition.

Rodarte's "Black Collection" hang suspended in midair. On the far right is Odile's costume for the Black Swan. Image courtesy of MOCA

But ignoring the poor lighting issues and tiny venue, it was interesting to finally see in person dresses I could only recognize from runway photos. The pictures don't do the collection any justice, for they leave out a number of details that could only be observed up close. Take the "Black Collection" (Spring 2010), in which one dress alone included bits and pieces of embroidered vinyl, cotton cheesecloth, feathers, Swarovski crystals, pleated silk, metal lace, and alpaca wool. The embroidered vinyl--fitted over the shoulders and incorporated in wide strips across the chest and waist--was actually much softer in person, more worn and crumpled than hard and pebbly as the photos suggest. Another "hidden" feature were the surreptiously placed Swarovski crystals, which provided the dresses with a certain sparkle reminiscent of stars in a clear night sky. Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy weren't kidding when they said that this was a collection about a woman who was "scarred and still beautiful."

Emerging from the wall like pale ghosts, Rodarte's "White Collection" brought images of Victorian decay to the author's mind. Image courtesy of MOCA

The second room of the exhibition was dedicated to the "White Collection" (Fall 2010) and "Red Collection" (Fall 2008), and showcased the same perverse, gothic twist that the sisters have worked to perfect. At first I was intrigued by the White Collection's Victorian overtones (think layers of pleated tulle lace and lots of pearls), but the real surprise came when I noticed a lacy brasserie peeking through the sheer top. Quite a cheeky reference to the most sexually conservative era in history. The abundance of white also had me thinking of wedding bells, but in a much, much darker vein. Instead of a perfect, happy bride, I saw Miss Havisham sitting at her boudoir, her frail body clothed in a ragged, moth-eaten bridal gown--the same one she has worn since the day her love abandoned her before their wedding--and her hair done up in jewels covered in dusty cobwebs. It was an incredibly powerful impression, and a true testament to the designers' abilities to transform mere scraps of fabric into complete stories.

The Rodarte designers, Laura and Kate Mulleavy, standing next to their horror inspired "Red Collection". Image courtesy of whitewall

Two pieces that needed no extra imagination were the costumes from the Black Swan. Surprisingly tiny in person, the tutus unfortunately fell short of their spectacular turn on the big screen; but I have to admit that seeing them also gave me the chills (trust me, this isn't a movie you easily forget). Mental scarring aside, this is still an exhibition everyone should see, if only to see how one of America's most inventive fashion designers got their spectacular start.

Rodarte: States of Matter will be on view from March 4–June 5, 2011, at MOCA Pacific Design Center. Admission is free.

Aimee Shimizu
Assistant Blog Editor

1 comment:

  1. I agree! The two rooms were way too sparse to get a real idea of what the sisters' visions represent. I really wasn't a fan.