a major rodarte museum exhibition is on the way

Further proof that fashion has finally earned its place in museums.

by André-Naquian Wheeler
24 April 2017, 8:03am

​photography jason lloyd-evans

The perception that a Commes Des Garçons or a 60s Balenciaga tunic are lower forms of art than, say, a Pollock or Picasso painting or, even worse, are not art at all is dissolving. After the runaway success of exhibitions like Victoria and Albert Museum's Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibit and the Met's Manus x Machina exhibit, which attracted over 750,000 visitors last year, it has become clear to curators that couture creations can bring all-new crowds to their institutions.

Rodarte is the latest brand whose creations have been deemed "fine art" by a museum. WWD announced that the Museum of Women in the Arts, located in Washington D.C., is staging a retrospective of the brand in autumn 2018. The honour is even more impressive when you consider that the brand is only 12 years young. But the creations of sister duo Kate and Laura Mulleavy have always looked like they'd be more at home in a museum than in a closet. Their gowns commonly feature designs that conjure the impression of oils on canvas carefully transferred onto chiffon.

This is not Rodarte's first time being exhibited in a museum. Their designs have appeared in exhibits by the Met, Fashion Institute of Technology, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. And the art world praise does not stop there. In 2008, the Mulleavy sisters were also the first designers to be featured inside Artforum since the legendary Issey Miyake in 1987. 

The retrospective is the first-ever fashion exhibition for the Museum of Women in the Arts, which opened in 1987 and displays works by artists like Frida Kahlo and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun. Susan Fisher Sterling, director at NMWA, says the museum landed on Kate and Laura Mulleavy because "they work a lot like artists in the sense that they're almost artisanal in the way they produce their work; they somewhat go against the grain of having a really huge schedule of shows. They tend to take time with their collections and they live in L.A. and have an interesting relationship with film and the art scene."

The upcoming exhibit in D.C. is part of a developing trend for fashion exhibitions outside of the industry's key cities. For example, a retrospective on the work of iconic fashion photographer Bruce Weber is currently taking place at the Dallas Contemporary (which will also stage a Jeremy Scott retrospective later this year). The Henry Ford Museum, located in Deerborn, Michigan (population: 98,000) recently held an exhibit called American Style and Spirit that featured archival clothing from the affluent Roddis family. It'd be fair to say that the velvet rope has been dropped and fashion is now an art form that everyone can appreciate.

"Washington is not known for its fashion, right?" Sterling told WWD. "The only time we see a lot of it is at the Smithsonian with the First Ladies gowns." Sterling says she hopes to keep the haute couture momentum going after the Rodarte show by creating a fashion department at NMWA.

In an age where high-fashion can be viewed on a smartphone or computer anywhere, anytime, by anyone, it makes complete sense that thousands are lining up to see the one-of-a-kind creations we all dream about IRL. 


Text André-Naquian Wheeler
Photography Jason Lloyd-Evans

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