The Los Angeles-based design duo Rodarte has long demonstrated a keen understanding of theater and performance with their shadowy balletic dresses and distressed knits; their pieces function more as “wearable art” than those of any other contemporary American designer. Now, after their recent successful collaboration at LACMA (the Fra Angelico Collection) and last year’s installation at MOCA (“States of Matter”), the maverick designers continue their path into experimental art in another winning local partnership: costuming the L.A. Philharmonic’s production of the Mozart opera Don Giovanni.
Rodarte founders Laura and Kate Mulleavy partner with legendary architect Frank Gehry for the production, which concludes its run at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this week. Gehry’s elaborately surreal sets represent the disturbed interiors of the philandering Don Giovanni’s mind, as well as present the perfect backdrop of dismantled elegance that has come to define Rodarte’s best design work. Their costumes highlight, yet again, their remarkable ability to twist and turn fine fabrics into garments that exude emotional dissonance. As witnessed through the carefully curated music that soundtracks their own Fashion Week shows, clothing is only the starting point in a dialogue with Rodarte; the accompanying stories and sounds hint at so much more.
For their work on Don Giovanni, the duo has offered the media rare behind-the-scenes information. On a technical level, their process has been painstaking: the Mulleavys utilized “over 130,000 Swarovski crystals,” incorporated complex beading and hand embroidery and even rendered denim into straitjackets and armor. The result is far greater than the sum of its parts; the clothes mark an aesthetic feat for their label, a milestone on par with their now iconic Fall 2008 “Murder Dolls” collection, which was influenced by Japanese horror cinema and bled with a much-copied sense of poisoned femininity. That collection launched them to Vogue-level fame and its elements were incorporated into their costume work for Black Swan; after Don Giovanni, their path should prove equally interesting.
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