Exhibition Review: “Quicktake: Rodarte” Cooper-Hewitt Museum

The highly conceptual women’s clothing brand Rodarte, a label founded by the design team of sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, has been the recipient of many awards including the Council of Fashion Designers of America 2009 award for Womenswear Designer of the Year. The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum‘s current exhibition “Quicktake: Rodarte,” on view February 11th – March 14th, 2010, takes a look at what makes Rodarte clothing more than just “cool.” (I should note too that Rodarte was one of the most recent designers to collaborate with Target, showing that despite the incredibly sophisticated nature of Rodarte garments, they still can manage to appeal to a broad range of consumers.)

The most striking feature of the garments in the exhibition is the constant interplay between hard and soft. There is an avoidable homespun feel, yet each piece feels strangely future-oriented. Re-shaped and re-formed, these garments are the epitome of collage. They are clearly falling apart, yet intentionally held together. As such is seems that they are the embodiment of the simultaneous decay and reconstruction that characterizes our current social environment.

At the risk of being overly dramatic, I’m inclined to say that Rodarte’s clothing also represents the spirit of the contemporary woman – a phoenix rising out of the ashes, a forward-thinking “fierce” being, yet one who still revels in tulle and pastels reminiscent of the ballet, and who still values craft and homespun materials which highlight the essence of femininity.

Chains, studs, intricately manipulated leather, crocheted metallic yarn, pale pink tulle — one hundred percent tough, yet entirely delicate. A few of the garments are characterized by gathered and wrapped gauze, covering the frame like a corpse or a mummy. There are certainly gothic elements at work in the clothing, but somehow there is a freedom or a power still latent in the overall effect.

Spider webs of crochet cover the chest and the legs of the mannequins, wrapping them in cocoons, but again this body covering feels like armor, preparing the wearer for action. Encased in feathers, leather, and tie-dye, snakeskin and puckered yarn, these bodies looked “dipped;” thev’ve been “treated” rather than dressed. The garments possess a true tactile quality. A person wants to touch them. This haptic visuality that informs the clothing appeals to the new shifting emphasis on touch versus sight. We no longer want to be seen, but felt as well.

Rodarte is adored by young starlets for the brands’ indescribable “it” quality, but this show at the Cooper-Hewitt demonstrate the designers’ staying quality as craftswomen deserving of actual recognition for the quality and innovation apparent in the garments they create.

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  • Chris Mangum March 05, 2010 09.22 am

    Thanks, Lucy. I was interested in seeing this show when I was in NY a few weeks ago, but I don’t think it had opened yet. Love Cooper-Hewitt. Judging from the photos, your words really do seem to capture the show.

  • Tove Hermanson March 09, 2010 09.27 pm

    I loved your reading more than I loved this particular exhibition (though I enjoy Rodarte’s collections generally). Maybe part of the problem of the display was… it wasn’t enough!

  • Sarah Scaturro March 11, 2010 10.21 am

    Tove, it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t up long enough! Alas, such is the concept behind the “Quicktake” series here at the CH. They’re meant to highlight new and emerging designers by giving the public a quick, tasty, little morsel of their work…

  • Worn Through » Fashionable Decay: Death and Dress
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