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Rodarte presented during Florence”s Pitti a unique installation inspired by Italian art.

Text by Anna Battista

“Rarely does fashion dream of producing spaces beyond representation (…). This is the secret of Rodarte: design becomes another kind of mapping,” John Kelsey states in the monograph Rodarte (JRP/Ringler 2011), made in collaboration with photographers Catherine Opie and Alec Soth. In a way Kelsey”s definition could be used also to describe the project Kate and Laura Mulleavy, special guests at Pitti Immagine, showcased yesterday night.

Leaving horror cinema – one of their main inspirations – behind, the Mulleavy sisters decided to tell through ten dresses a personal story that referenced Italian art from Fra Angelico”s frescoes in the monks” cells at the Friary of San Marco in Florence to Gian Lorenzo Bernini”s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

The sisters “mapped” in the designs the palette of the frescoes, the fluid quality of the tunics donned by the characters featured in Fra Angelico”s works and some of the elements and themes of Bernini”s famous sculpture.

“We”re so excited to be here and share this collection,” Kate Mulleavy stated yesterday morning during the press conference. “We made this collection in Los Angeles, but created it exclusively for this event in Florence, this is why we decided to design pieces that display a strong connection with the environment. I was an Art History major and I”ve always considered the frescoes in the monks” cells as one of my favourite artworks.”

The ten dresses were showcased in the city centre in the spaces where Bartolini, a local iconic homeware shop, used to be based until last year when it closed down.

“When Laura found this place we decided we wanted to recreate inside here little meditative spaces,” Kate explained. “Alexandre de Betak helped us evoking through specially designed sets of neon lights a sort of serene mood that allows you to experience all the pieces. Alex is great since he was able to reinterpret our idea and bring it into a modern context.”

A haunting and at times frighteningly mesmerising track accompanied the visitors throughout the installation. Once a noisy shop full of activity, Bartolini”s empty space with its cracking or crumbling plaster walls became the perfect location to showcase the designs.

A bright pink and a peach dress in pleated silk and draped silk georgette featured a ray breast plate and a gold ray belt that called to mind the golden rays suggesting the radiance of Heaven in Bernini”s “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” (the dress also Vous pourrez choisir de lancer les rouleaux un certain nombre de fois sans interagir avec la machines a sous gratuites . evoked the pink tunic of the Archangel in Fra Angelico”s “Annunciation”, one of the “signature” paintings of the Renaissance), while a gold lame, silk and sequinned gown with painted feathers and a gold ray hand piece called to mind Italian Baroque art in a costumy kind of way.

The pleated motifs and the colours of the tunics of Fra Angelico”s saints were replicated in two dresses in aqua green and pale blue, while the appliquéd feathers decorating quite a few designs referenced angels.

“I find my background in arts liberating,” stated Kate, “I spent so much time studying the art that I was going to see here that, when I actually saw it in real life, it was so shocking and overwhelming that I had the impression my knowledge had disappeared. I think this tremendous experience of art and being able to see things that you have the curiosity for, is at the core of creation.”

Silk georgette, chiffon and organza prevailed throughout this special collection “We”re really picky about fabrics,” Laura explained.

“Usually you have an idea and you choose fabrics that can communicate it. We used a lot of georgette because it looks chalky and matte, but it still retains a vibrant soft colour and the beautiful palette of the frescoes have that same quality about them.”

While a white dress with crimson silk organza waves was maybe a reference to the blood and water oozing from Jesus” wounds or to the arrow of divine love that Saint Teresa claimed, an angel had thrust into her heart, the sequins in the accompanying dresses in dusty blue gauze and pink silk satin, two shades that evoked the palette in Fra Angelico”s “Last Judgment”, were maybe more Hollywood cinema than Florentine art.

“We grew up with Hollywood films and our inspiration comes from there,” Laura explained. “America challenged couture for the first time through Hollywood films. If you look at Adrian for example you see that kind of craftsmanship that belonged to Hollywood. Though I must admit that at the same time, rather than looking at the dresses specific characters are wearing in a film, we use the landscapes as a reference.”

Landscape may prevail in Rodarte”s designs, but there was in this “collection” an indirect reference to a particular person, the sisters” grandmother. “She was from Rome and, in a weird way, she taught us about fashion because she was an opera singer and she used to make her own costumes,“ Laura recounted. “I have gone through the pieces at my mum”s to see what she wore throughout the years and I really feel she inspires us in our work. When we see a Prada show we also always think that she”s channelling our grandmother.”

The Rodarte installation at Bartolini looked quite striking, so it was no surprise that the dresses were bought by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where they will become part of the Costume and Textile Collection.

All images courtesy Autumn de Wilde.

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