Rodarte’s Mulleavy Sisters Discuss Their New Book

It was an idea bound to happen. Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy have collaborated with portrait photographer Catherine Opie, as well as landscape photographer Alec Soth, on a fashion book that captures the relationship between the sisters’ bewitching aesthetic and the varied landscape of California, where they call home.

Although shooting fashion was “uncharted territory” for Opie, it only took one conversation with the sisters to get her on board. Opie snapped her tattooed friends in Rodarte gowns in Culver City over two 12-hour days in her unique aesthetic, which is to say, against bright backgrounds that serve to isolate and discomfit the subject. Meanwhile, Soth traveled throughout California and captured some of the more distinct places the duo has found inspiration.

Just days after showing their Vincent van Gogh-themed spring ’12 collection, the Mulleavys, along with Catherine Opie, discussed their concept for the book at an intimate gathering in the New York Public Library. Here, the most salient tidbits…

Laura Mulleavy: “When we started this book, we didn’t really understand what California meant to us. It was through working on it that every emotion we have, everything we create, is rooted in things that we’ve seen when we were exploring or traveling when we were younger, or even now.”

Kate Mulleavy: “I was thinking, How can we share a thought process with someone? It’s the thought process that’s visualized. I was a huge fan of Cathy’s. We met in a random situation, sitting next to each other at a dinner. She actually visualizes the landscape of our body of work, with the clothes telling a story.”

Catherine Opie: “I didn’t want to charter into fashion for the first time, which was uncharted territory. I talked to them about how the texture of their work hasn’t been shown before, but I wanted to portray it in detail, mapped out. So some moments are a portrait and some are a still life. It was important for me to use my friends because they are incredible-looking.”

Kate Mulleavy: “I think what people don’t understand is that even if you live in Los Angeles, at any moment you can get in your car and drive to Death Valley and you’re at the primordial bizarre. There’s no other place in the world like it, such an extreme landscape that that type of freedom registers, your ability to go to these extreme points.”

Laura Mulleavy: “Doing this book was really exciting because we had to work with clothing and understand it as a landscape and make it work with the landscape of California that was shot by Al Soth. It was interesting putting it all together. There’s a huge narrative here. Cathy and Al hadn’t talked to each other before or seen each other’s work, but the photographs put side-by-side really tell a similar story. I think that’s because what we do in our clothing is California, all of the colors and the land. You can’t remove that from each other.”

Kate Mulleavy: “We kept looking at this portrait [of Van Gogh’s mother] and there’s something similar to this crazy landscape that we live in. We took sun blots and transformed them into sunflowers. And there’s this connection between the idea of the stars [of California] and his painting Starry Night.”

Kate Mulleavy: “I feel like sometimes when we’re making things and figuring out how to tell a story, we really don’t know what the story is. Like the condor. A long time ago the symbol of America was down to the bald eagle or the condor. And although it’s this crazy creature, the condor apparently didn’t have the same PR company that the eagle had. But we were curious because they’re native to where we’re from and they’re larger than the eagle in terms of wingspan. There’s so many different versions of what makes something beautiful.”

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