rodarte's janis joplin spring/summer 17 wonderland

Kate and Laura Mulleavy examine stubborn, decadent individualism in their latest collection.

by Rory Satran
14 September 2016, 3:00pm

Janis Joplin recorded the hypnotic, almost a capella hymn "Mercedes Benz" three days before she died at twenty-seven from a heroin overdose. Its lyrics, written with poet Michael McClure, refer slyly to that very American desire for beautiful things, expensive things (like handmade lace Rodarte evening gowns, for example). Joplin herself -- one of the inspirations for today's richly layered Rodarte collection -- drove a Porsche painted with psychedelic patterns. The creative life force that would drive an artist to deface a luxury car is the spirit Kate and Laura Mulleavy channelled in this spring collection replete with bouncy lace, spliced shearling, and a whole lot of studs.

They were thinking about Joplin, and also the eerie 1973 Spanish film The Spirit of the Beehive, Laura told me after the show. "It's really about understanding the way you look at the world with more purity, and less clarity, like children," she said. "The idea that you need to be creative." It's very Rodarte to champion the power of a decadent imagination. Think Janis Joplin pouring Veuve Cliquot, barefoot, at Woodstock. Or Ana, the six-year-old protagonist of The Spirit of the Beehive, reimagining a sheep pasture as Frankenstein's lair.

Janis was everywhere in the looks, from the cropped, patchworked furs to the flowers in the models' hair (the blues singer wore flower crowns before they were flower crowns). Laura pointed to "some pieces that were more carefree," such as the leather jackets belted louchely at the waist, and the low-cut buttoned peasant blouses. As for The Spirit of the Beehive, its influence was more intuitive, with a "calm, delicate, innocent feeling." The serious child could be seen in the cream-colored dresses, the soft fuzzy hair, and even the girl-woman casting. Where the collection departed drastically -- and happily -- from these influences was in the standout studded pieces, halters, skirts, and jackets with thick metallic frost.

The Mulleavys have a gift for making us look at things more closely, whether that is a fabric (lace), a shape (the Western boot), or a concept (horror). That sense of revelation reflects their own process. Laura described her interest in Joplin as, "It's almost like i was discovering Monet for the first time. You know something so well your whole life and then suddenly there's this moment of, 'I can't believe this woman existed.' We're all so lucky because of it. Not that  didn't think that before, but it just became more clear."

The show closed to the refrain of The Velvet Underground's "I'm Set Free." A theme of freedom? Not really, said Laura. It was just one of the most beautiful songs they could think of.


Text Rory Satran
Photography Mitchell Sams

janis joplin
New York Fashion Week
kate mulleavy
laura mulleavy
spring/summer 17
the spirit of the beehive