It seems Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte work cosseted in their own world, not only far removed from the fashion frenzy of Manhattan but often from the vagaries of modern life itself. Their collections are born from narratives, their clothes handcrafted with blood, sweat and tears and imbued with talismanic qualities like the relic of some kind of fashion patron saint. For Autumn/Winter 2010, the spark for the Rodarte sisters were the murder of maquiladora workers whilst walking to the factories at night in the bordertown of Juarez, Texas - informing and inflaming their creative fire to concoct a melancholy, haunted story of sleepwalkers dressed in ethereal mixes of colour and texture, shovelled haphazardly onto the body in the dead of night. Dressing in the dark is seldom inspiration behind a fashion collection (at least, one that isn't admitted), but the Rodarte sisters are no ordinary fashion designers. They approach their work more as art than fashion - handcrafting garments that evolve slowly from season to season, collaging fabric into a form of fashion-sculpture. Sometimes that fusion doesn't quite hit the right note, but other times - such as today - their creative fusion of artisan and artist soars to new levels.
This season, the Mulleavys continued their exploration of pattern - indeed, theirs was a veritable explosion of contrast prints, from last season's madras check, to lumberjack tartan, to mishmashing of every florals from sprigged cotton to silk chiffons emblazoned with lurid blooms. Navajo embroidery cropped up on one brief dress, folded like an apron over the waist, as did folksy-looking macrame, fashioned into fringe-trimmed skirts and openwork tops tufted with wool. It was ambitious to juggle these multiple layers of distress in a single collection, but the fact the Mulleavy sisters managed to pull them off in single outfits - each retaining a distinct identity, and yet a relation to the collection as a whole - was as mind-boggling as their craftsmanship.
Given this was a winter collection, there wasn't much of a wintry feel - with snow still thick on the ground outside, the idea of drifting around in one of the diaphanous tulle-and-lace nightgown-cum-evening gowns that they closed with was a chilly prospect. Yet there were many piece that would cross over quite easily into the real world - fabulous swathed sheepskins and bulky embroidered workman's gloves were a tough addition to those otherworldly evening frocks, and the palette of sunbleached shades, like garments faded in the desert sun, was beautiful but eminently wearable. The idea of twinning those make-do-and-mend collage tops and tunic-dresses with narrow trousers managed to look sophisticated, chic and streamlined rather than folksy - ditto Nicholas Kirkwood's sci-fi shoes, with lacerated and laced leather fronts that managed to project that hackneyed fashion-function sport hybrid into 3010, never mind 2010. That said, the finale was pure, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fairytale magic: under blacklight, a clutch of white bridal gowns shimmered like spectres, while the heels on those Kirkwoods flickered with an otherworldly light. Plain and simple, for twenty minutes Rodarte let us dream. Now the dream has finished. How sad.