Fashion & Beauty

When Fashion Is Art

November 25, 2018

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THERE IS ART, and there is fashion. There are art exhibits, and there are fashion shows. In recent years, though, the latter have morphed into the former. Or is it the other way around?

No matter. Museum-goers know how to gawk, whether it’s at the paper couture of Isabelle de Borchgrave in Pittsburgh, the over-the-topness of the recently concluded Vatican show in New York, the finery of the czars in the Kremlin museum or the exquisite tailoring of Norman Norell (the Museum at FIT). And fashion folk just may see ephemeral confections as things worthy of a longer half-life than the current Harper’s Bazaar.

Now the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC has weighed in with its very first fashion exhibit. For that they chose arguably the artiest of today’s clothing designers, the Los Angeles-based Mulleavy sisters, Kate and Laura, whose 13-year-old luxury label, and oeuvre, are known by Rodarte (a variation on their mother’s maiden name, Rodart).

If you don’t know Rodarte, it may mean that you don’t regularly browse the aisles of  Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan or Fred Segal in LA (or a dozen other upscale outlets) or click through the pricy images at Net-a-Porter or Moda Operandi. That’s probably all right with the Mulleavy sisters, the inspiration for whose couture-level clothing has cycled through nature and Goth and anime and punk and Renaissance Italy, not the local cash register. The sisters started the line in 2005, with 10 hand-finished pieces. By 2008, a Rodarte gown was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art  Costume Institute’s permanent collection.

Viewing a retrospective of the first 13 years of Rodarte is more alluring than scouting it out in store or online. And the National Museum of Women in the Arts has made it possible. And, by the way, the museum shop is selling a book of Rodarte paper dolls!

—Nancy McKeon

Rodarte, National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue NW, Washington DC 20005; 202-783-5000, nmwa.org. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, free 18 and under. The first Sunday of each month is free to all. Open Monday through Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday noon to 5pm. Rodarte runs through February 10, 2019. 



2 thoughts on “When Fashion Is Art

  1. Kathy Legg says:

    Sooooooooooo beautiful!

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      I want to go see the show!

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