An opulent and sparkling silver banquet set the scene for the Rodarte Autumn-Winter 2023 collection in New York. Watching the show, you could be forgiven for thinking you had wandered through a wardrobe or looking glass and into a fairy tale. This surreal and dreamlike quality is typical of the fashion house run by sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy. Their designs consistently push boundaries, resulting in beautiful and complex garments that haunt the imagination.
Indeed, the inspiration behind the Autumn/Winter collection was fairies, according to Kate Mulleavy. This was most obvious with the elfin headpieces and the images of fays and sprites. They were drawn by the sisters’ mother (an artist) and printed onto the fabric of many pieces towards the end of the show. One outfit even included wings.
The collection began with a series of stunning black gowns, which could easily be worn by Morticia or Wednesday Addams. Hints of white and electric blue began to appear, leading to the dazzling array of colours, sequins and tinsel that marked the close of the show. However, in signature Rodarte style, this enchanting fantasy was edged with something darker. The sweeping gothic eyeliner and bold lipstick worn by the models complemented the combination of whimsical reverie and dark opulence.
Resisting the Temptation
This is the most appealing aspect of Rodarte: the mixture of brutality and beauty, reminiscent of an Egon Schiele painting. When the main inspiration of a collection is fairies, it would be too easy to focus on the pleasing and the pretty. But here, the Malleavy sisters have done something far more interesting. By adding this maleficent element, they have stayed true to the original essence of fairy tales. Like those famously recorded by the Brothers Grimm. These stories are dark, disturbing, and joyous. It is impossible not to admire Rodarte for acknowledging this in their collection and resisting the temptation to sanitise and Disneyfy the fairy theme.
Rodarte Autumn-Winter 2023 Standouts
Some of my favourite pieces appeared at the start of the show. Floor-length black dresses with dramatic bell sleeves and plunging necklines demanded attention. Though they were less ornate than the later garments, they showed off the technical skill of the fashion house. There was a quiet confidence in their apparent simplicity, which was later lost with the addition of ruffles and bows. The standout piece, for me, was the elegant dark green gown with black lace panels. It was reminiscent of the softer green and white lace dress from the Spring/Summer 23 collection but undeniably more dramatic.
Hints of History
There was a 1930s feel about some of these pieces, but also a dash of Victoriana — note the bonnets and frills, as well as the high necklines. Yet this mutated into something almost futuristic in later pieces, with more experimental silhouettes and materials, including sequins, tulle, and Rodarte’s signature cobweb knit. Less convincing, however, were the giant cocoon-like tinsel dresses. I felt it detracted from the overall show and would have looked more at home in the Christmas decorations aisle of a supermarket.