Memo From the Editor: A Rodarte Critique

1.) Fall  2008: I WANT EVERYTHING! 2.)   Spring  2011: My mind is crying tears of joy. 3.) Spring 2012: What  are these feelings of betrayal? Why, Rodarte, why?!? All images courtesy of

A note from the editor: When BARE isn't busy being a fabulous blog, you can find us out prowling the streets of Berkeley as a rather stunning magazine publication. BARE magazine's Editor-in-Chief, John Kim, is a man of impeccable taste, and I would trust him with anything (except maybe my bank account, which he would probably use to fund his Celine fetish), so it is with the utmost confidence that I present a new series entitled "Memo From the Editor". Here you can expect insights, observations, and words of wisdom from the man some people call "the cooler version of Anna Wintour" (false), without any of the pretentiousness (true). Enjoy!

I'm a self-professed Rodarte fan. Okay, a fan would be an understatement--more like a disciple to a deity. So it's not surprising that I was glued to my smartphone during class as the photos went live from their show today during Fashion Week. First reactions were fantastic: they nailed the Van Gogh inspiration once again and came up with some innovative fabrics in a well-thought out story.

But as I look more closely at the clothes, I'm unfortunately a bit disappointed. There was a bit of sameness in their garments, something that's started to peak into their work since their Spring 2011 collection when rumors of a possible LVMH back-up were spreading like wildfire. I, personally, go to Rodarte to see what no one else in the American market can even think of. Their silhouettes, color schemes, fantasy-inducing clothes speak for themselves and are never put into a trend category like any other designer. They're a breath of fresh air. But the pressure from "the public" to become more commercial has had a negative consequence on the Mulleavy sisters' creativity. Gone are the days when dresses were draped with pearl, lace, stained cheesecloth, and burned chiffon (all in one look, too!). You could tell there was more attention in the variety of fabrics and the draping of the skirts when business wasn't so hot. Odd-length dresses have been replaced with modest knee skirts and the most trim you'll probably see is an embroidered hem. I long for the old days.

While asking $10,000 for a knit dress was a bold and hazardous move on their part, Rodarte has to keep distinguishing itself from other labels that try to cut back costs to gain more markup. Streamlining their garments isn't going to make the true Rodarte customer begging for more. As the brand starts to catch-on to the general public, I believe there's a way to keep designing for themselves, as opposed to their new imposed customers, while keeping costs from rocketing. No doubt it's a much tougher job than it sounds. But until they figure out the perfect marriage of Bergdorfs and Badlands, I'll be on my toes. Maybe they'll have to cut off an ear or two.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments! 

John Kim 


  1. (I saw a link to this from John's Facebook and was going to respond from there but figured a response this long probably isn't appropro for a Facebook wall.)

    I understand where you're coming from John, but I have to disagree with your disappointment at the Mulleavy's becoming too "commercial" as of their most recent collection. I'm actually breathing a sigh of relief for Kate and Laura. When Rodarte first came out, their biggest critique was that their designs were almost too "unwearable." There were just too many intricate details in all their designs that could not be replicated en masse to be sold in retail stores. This means fewer investors, and more out-of-pocket spending by the Mulleavy's. Which is fine- I'm sure keeping their business afloat isn't a problem at all (they do have some committed industry backers). But having a handful of rich patrons isn't enough to be a viable business in fashion (otherwise Joe Zee's new show, "All On the Line," would be irrelevant and boring). Designers need to expand their appeal, and this translates into making "wearable" designs. As in every business, marketability is just as important as innovation.

    Having said that, I have noticed a decrease in the eccentricity of Rodarte pieces. But this doesn't mean a decline in the Mulleavy's commitment to their own vision and ideas. The choice to create a Van Gogh inspired line, the silhouettes, the drapery, etc. are all still true to the Mulleavy sisters' artistry. The Mulleavy's are young, and so is Rodarte. They have many more seasons to experiment with both the creativity and marketability of their line. To ignore the former would jeopardize the line's integrity, and to ignore the latter could potentially put the Mulleavy's out of business. Perhaps Spring 2012 is their effort to incorporate both, and they arguably may have tipped the scales too much on the marketability side. Which is fine - I can still sleep soundly knowing they are at least trying.

    I am looking forward to future lines in which Rodarte's legacy can evolve into a brand that is known for being unique, intricate and "sellable." Seeing "sameness" in the most recent collections is definitely not an omen for the downward spiral of the Mulleavy's ingenuity.

    This isn't a red flag for war, either John! Not at all! I loved this op-ed, and your opinion is expressed very well. It's definitely an issue that comes up for every young, emerging designer, and I'm really happy I can post my take on it vis-à-vis yours.

  2. Past Rodarte shows have been incredibly accomplished. They made the viewer dream. I believe that EVERYTHING is always wearable because for goodness sakes you can just put it on and hell yes you are wearing it. Whether it is the person or not that is another questions.

    Here's the thing about this collection. The reference points I felt were far too literal, I don't feel their digital prints are done as well as they should/could be and here the silhouettes were disappointing for them. The styling was poor and it just felt half assed, which for the Mulleavy's is unheard of and I'm sure it took a lot of effort.

    Glad you expressed your opinion John!