the rodarte sisters on shifting from fashion to film
Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s haunting environmental elegy to Northern California is a cinematic trip five years in the making.
Photography Matteo Montanari
This article originally appeared in The Sounding Off Issue, no. 350, Winter 2017.
Woodshock, the directorial debut of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, is a glimpse into the psyche of two very private women. The designer siblings behind acclaimed American label Rodarte live in Pasadena, at a physical and psychological remove from the fashion industry. The film too is about isolation, but of a more extreme kind. Set in Northern California, where the sisters grew up, Kirsten Dunst plays Theresa, who lives deep inside the towering redwoods. When Theresa helps euthanize her mother by providing her with poison laced with marijuana, she descends into madness, her mental state exacerbated by the ancient trees.
“Our connection to the redwoods is very deep,” Laura Mulleavy begins. “We grew up outside Santa Cruz in a place called Aptos. On the edge of where we lived was an old grove forest. To give some perspective, that’s pretty much all that’s left of the redwoods.” 95% of the fabled trees are now gone, Laura explains, and so in writing the film, the sisters explored what might happen psychologically to a person surrounded by logging their whole life, as Theresa succumbs to a type of PTSD. “This woman is born of this landscape, and at this point in her life she longs to get back. So she returns to that tree she was looking for.” The sisters’ deep affection for the redwoods of their childhood is tangible. “What we love about the world and its beauty is the idea that there are things on this earth that are much older and wiser than us. And they’re not human.”
Laura speaks so passionately and articulately of the filmmaking process it’s clear that the experience was wholeheartedly positive. “Taking a vision from beginning to end is something I feel so confident in doing, because I’m so accepting that an idea can shift and change and grow,” she says. When asked if she and Kate plan to make another film, Laura’s response is immediate. “Oh my gosh, of course,” she replies immediately. “Making one unleashes something in you. In our case, it made us aware of how much we love something. So yes, we’ve already started working on something else.” Don’t expect anything too soon though; Woodshock took five years to make. “It’s nice we took a long time doing it, because we’re careful and thoughtful and wanted to have our first outing as filmmakers really represent who we are,” says Laura. “It’s a really important thing to let your voice shine artistically, if that’s what you care about – and we do!” Thank god there are still people that care as much as the Mulleavys.
Photography Matteo Montanari
Styling Tracey Nicholson
Hair Johnnie Sapong at The Wall Group using Leonor Grey
Make-up Gioria Noto at Art Department using Hourglass Cosmetics and Babor Skincare
Digital technician Andrew Harringon
Photography assistance Ben Thomson Chad Crews and Mike Lopez
Styling assistance Elena Chavez
Production Giovanni Jance at F32
Production assistance Jai Crocker
Kate and Laura wear all clothing models’ own