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Laura and Kate Mulleavy, the sisters behind the smart, gorgeous, terrifying, sublime Rodarte label and therefore the Rodarte retrospective at National Museum of Women in the Arts, which opened last weekend, have always been a couple of odd ducks. And we say this with all the love in our hearts. The two have marched to their own drum since day one.

Making couture of the most precious, highest order in the relative wild of California (as opposed to, say, New York or Paris).

Producing two instead of four collections a year.

Making the most fragile, personal pieces and pouring 150 hours+ per garment in this time of fast fashion when even the Karl Lagerfelds of the world are releasing diffusion lines.

Watching horror movies and making them, while dealing in beauty.

Letting their work speak for themselves, instead of over-saturating the oversaturated media landscape with soundbites around every project.

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So, if you keep all that in mind, it makes ALL THE SENSE that they’d do their first retrospective (coming to us on their lucky 13th anniversary, obviously) in Washington D.C., as opposed to some of those other “obvious” locations. Good for them, and great for us.

Washington is sadly, still obviously a wild card choice for a major fashion exhibition. Yes, D.C. has some of the very finest museum institutions in the world, but the fashion exhibition game has been seemingly relegated to those First Lady Inauguration Gowns that have been at the American History museum forever, a part of the pop-culture time capsule alongside Judy Garland’s ruby red slippers and the Julia Child Kitchen, treated like historical artifacts as opposed to, well, fashion (as art, as something that lifts us UP). In short, there was NO fashion exhibition game to talk about around these parts, until now.

With RODARTE at NMWA, all that is about to change. Because, short of the McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition at the Met a while back (which, yes, showcased a genius, but a male genius designing for women), this is the single most important fashion show to be seen in a decade anywhere, and unmatched entirely when it comes to American designers (I’m not even going to say “female American designer” here, because we are beyond that, right? RIGHT!). And it couldn’t be coming at a better time.

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Fresh off their very first show in Paris, Laura and Kate have achieved a lot, especially considering the two are still in their 30s, working under their own label since their mid-20s. The name holds a clue to their quiet tenacity – the sisters added an “e” to their Mother’s maiden Rodart, an “e” she lost when she left her native Mexico and moved to United States.

It is an ‘e’ of reclaimed identity and defiance. An ‘e’ that won’t be silenced.

Their Mother, an artist, and their Grandmother, an opera singer, influenced the young Mulleavy siblings from the start, encouraging the girls to love Hitchcock and cinematic high drama, as well as the small and grand scale of human performance, even in the everyday. Every outfit of the 90+ on display is a fine balance of tension and utmost delicateness, as strong and vulnerable as humans who wear them may be.

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From the Magical Beautiful Horror selection to In The Garden, and circling back to, of course, their costumes for Black Swan and their own first directorial debut Woodshock (the museum is screening both movies during the exhibition run-ed), the  collections are all fully formed installments of a proper cannon, the Rodarte Mythology. Never compromising the most labor intensive craftsmanship, the final pieces are the real BIG picture: both wildly imaginative and also very wearable, a pull between the dark and the light we all feel on a daily basis, in D.C. these days more intensely, and viscerally as ever.

The Mulleavy’s imagine their customer (and the beholder of this show) as a warrior, an ingenue, a temptress, a witch, a child, a mother, a SISTER, a GODDESS even (yasssssssss). That multi-facetedness is what will allow for endless revisits of this exhibition, which stays in D.C. through early 2019 – the fact that, depending on the time of day, week, month, even hour, we may identify with different, even multiple, sides of the Rodarte universe. A show as complex as a human woman, what a rare and true, beautiful and scary treat we have on our hands here.

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The RODARTE exhibition is open now, through February 10th at the National Museum of Women In The Arts. More details here. You must go and use #RodarteDC to join in the conversation and make sure to check out the museum’s programming around the exhibition as well.

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p.s.

Oh, and of course, there was a gorgeous party to open everything up, with gorgeous people, in gorgeous outfits, and gorgeous cocktails by Grand Marnier and gold swings and baby’s breath and everything that goes with, so please keep scrolling for some great people watching.

all photos: Franz Mahr, #LiveGrand highlights by Jeff Martin

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