The State of American Fashion: Rodarte

WWD: Please sum up the state of American fashion as you see it.

Laura and Kate Mulleavy: It feels like it is in flux. That could be something really positive for its future, because periods of transition can lead to periods of flourish.

We are outliers in some ways in the American fashion community because our work is not typical sportswear or streetwear. Our retrospective in Washington, D.C., this fall will really show that, as well as the dresses we have on display right now at the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art]. We really believe that voices like ours who celebrate risk-taking design, dressmaking, couture fabrics and techniques and independent business are important in America.

WWD: What are American fashion’s strengths? Its weaknesses?

L.M. and K.M.: Being a part of the industry here has taught us how to clarify and convey the messages we want to send as a brand, and as a result, we have a very clear vision. The feeling of independence and freedom in America also has enabled us to continue expanding the ways we work as creatives, whether it be in filmmaking, writing or other areas of design and business. It has provided us a platform to be bold and to be fearless.

But with Rodarte we have also been heavily criticized as falling too far outside of the typical ready-to-wear context and not being commercial enough, which we feel is unfair. Fashion is a delicate balance of art and commerce, and we believe that brands should be celebrated for expressing alternative points of views and for diversifying what American fashion means.

WWD: Would you agree that there’s less excitement about American fashion now than in the mid-Nineties through the Aughts, when your generation emerged?

L.M. and K.M.: American fashion is very focused on commerce and we think that narrow focus can be oppressive. Brands that have thrived in Europe like Dries Van Noten, or even Yohji in Japan, have always been given ample space to be creative. U.S. brands are sometimes strangled by the pressure to perform commercially, and that mold isn’t necessarily right for everyone. It’s not one size fits all.

WWD: Is creativity impacted by geography?

L.M. and K.M.: We don’t think being creative and innovative is impacted by geography, but the expression of that creativity and how that expression is interpreted can be influenced by geography.

WWD: Do American designers and brands do enough together to strengthen the industry and/or the perception of the industry here?

L.M. and K.M.: The short answer is yes. We have always made our clothes in America and have been proud ambassadors of American design. As designers who have been particularly visible globally with our work, we have always made this a priority. The industry, in general though, in America could use more support in bolstering the prestige of American design.

WWD: Concerning shows, New York fashion’s current operating mantra is that each brand must do what’s best for itself. So far, has this approach proven beneficial?

L.M. and K.M.: Yes, it is good given that the way the world consumes fashion has changed so much. Shows are a unique way to celebrate a brand’s vision, but they are costly and the format needs to work for each individual brand’s overall marketing goals and long-term strategy. All the effort that is put into a show can easily become just another part of the daily news cycle, rather than being recognized as a special moment in a designer’s work, if not executed perfectly. We have continually reimagined what a show means to us and how we want to express ourselves within the format.

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