There's always a touch of perversity to Kate and Laura Mulleavy's Rodarte collections. We're not talking sexual perversity - these girls rarely indulge in a bit of idle slap-and-tickle on the catwalk - but a decided propensity to rock the boat. Witness their collection for Pitti Immagine - a site-specific installation, of a site-specific collection, inspired by high Florentine art and displayed like religious relics in a disused shopfront. When other designers are worrying about bottom lines and struggling to churn out pre-collections that put commerce first and creativity second to appease the buyers, the Mulleavy sisters throw caution to the wind, channel Fra Angelico and Bernini, and craft ten outstanding couture frocks. That's their way.
Think of it as the anti-resort collection - ignoring the restraints of sales, the seasonal system and the catwalk, and creating something pure. That's something many people believe Rodarte do on a seasonal basis, but perhaps never with such wanton abandon. The abandon was the best part - this was fashion for fashion's sake. Daywear doesn't get a look-in amongst intricately gathered silk and billowing taffeta in the rich, opalescent shades of Renaissance frescos. Daywear for the Szforzas and Medicis, perhaps. As for the Bernini? Imagine The Ecstasy Of Saint Theresa as a mind-boggling golden belt exploding in shards from the midriff. If this sounds like a religious experience, it was, with sculptural dresses suspended around neon light installations, layers of organza, satin and crystal beading shimmering like an icon in a provincial Tuscan village shrine. The mode of showing was bang-on too - these are dresses to feast your eyes on, the permanence of this display a fitting contrast to the fleeting impact of the fashion show. Is this Kate and Laura Mulleavy's last stand against the vagaries of fast fashion? If so, they're winning the war.
Couture is the term people are familiar with, but technically these dresses should be termed Alta Moda, the Italian equivalent of France's treasured sartorial art. Whether intentional or not, the Mulleavys evoked the grand tradition of Italian fashion as well as art - fine pleating reminiscent of Mariano Fortuny, grand gestures of cloth reminiscent of Capucci's fusion of sculpture and fashion, even a few throwbacks to the ballgowns of Gianfranco Ferre's eighties heyday, part Alexis Carrington, part Lucrezia Borgia.
The fate of these ten Rodarte gowns - shimmering with crystals, the product of over a thousand hours of concentrated work? The entire one-off collection has already been bequeathed to the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art. With this level of intricate, painstaking work, that's exactly where they belong - much to the chagrin of many a woman, no doubt.