Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Rodarte SS12: when good designers go off the boil

[All images from]. Once upon a time, there were two sisters who liked to design clothes. One was called Kate Mulleavy and the other was called Laura Mulleavy. They made many women happy with their quirky creations, which were full of interesting visual references. Then one day they decided to work towards Spring/Summer 2012 and they came up with the above piece of clothing - a cross between Maria Von Trapp's DIY customising in the Sound of Music, and a dowdy tent. And lo, even the model wearing the dress looked tragic, as it managed to hide most of her body, and it made mere mortals look even worse. The End.

Oh, wait - there's more! This second piece was equally disappointing, as the Mulleavy sisters are generally known for their innovative shapes and yet this feels too boxy and very much like a bad piece of patchwork. The only redeeming feature, the gold section, is wasted, because your eye is instantly drawn to the odd Catherine Wheel-esque print of the three banded sections.

A third piece that manages to make a model look dowdy. Perhaps the trousers would be okay if they were darker (i.e. not insipid yellow brocade) and paired with a really well-cut and unique blazer, but this top is just too heavy and it almost seems restrictive on the arms. Furthermore, the shoes look like an afterthought and they don't really add anything to the outfit. I am so disappointed.

To prove that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, I've managed to find three redeeming pieces that didn't make me want to cringe. This dress felt like a return to greatness, with its 'granny in the attic' vibe of tissue-thin lace and its delicate detail. Why couldn't the rest of the collection have taken a nod from these threads? There's a 'Miss Havisham' element in the lace that has been turned on its head with the sumptuous purple and the black tiered layers. What's more, the model (Karlie Kloss) looks beautiful, and that is what a good dress is supposed to do for you.

Yup, it's a panelled frock again, but in a much kinder way than that bizarre gold and blue number (Image 2). It's more 'fashion' rather than Baroque archive - the way that the tier spills out in the middle is edging towards Viktor & Rolf's cut-out dresses, as the eye follows a line and then suddenly that line changes with the new bottom section, edged with the largest panel. I also find the pale blue much easier to stomach here than in Image 1, where the strange swirly pattern (they took inspiration from Van Gogh, in case you're wondering) was a bit half-hearted.

The gorgeous outsize collar falls into a smooth V-shape, whilst the skirting section pops out like the end of an hourglass. This is intelligent pattern-cutting and it's also interesting to juxtapose Van Gogh's sunflowers with such modern fashion details. However, I don't think this would be an easy dress to carry off if you were looking for a long-term investment, as the print is so distinctive, but it is bound to be papped on a celebrity in the near future.

I've tried to not completely attack Rodarte over this show, by presenting a balanced view of three bad and three good pieces. However in the actual press photography there was a huge creative bias towards the styles that I really didn't like - the yellow brocade was everywhere, the awkward two-pieces dominated and there was a clear rejection of their old favourites. Yes, I'm all for innovation, but this collection proved that sometimes you can have too much of the new and not enough of the covetable.

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