Review: Rodarte’s first-ever hometown show is a blitz of bows and a bouquet of flowers

Before Rodarte’s fall and winter 2019 runway show at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino on Tuesday, the first time in the brand’s history designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy have presented their collection on home turf, two venue-related questions loomed large.

First, would the recent spate of inclement L.A. weather mean a repeat of last season’s rain-soaked show during New York Fashion Week? And second, did the beloved and critically acclaimed brand’s decision to show in Southern California — literally the day before the February slate of shows got underway on the opposite coast — signal something about L.A.’s place on the global fashion-week stage?

The answer to the first question was an emphatic no; the show unspooled in the domed Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court, which would have provided protection in the event of a cloudburst. By the time the impressively deep bench of celebrities including Tracee Ellis Ross, Marisa Tomei, Brie Larson, Diane Keaton and fashion-show first-timer John C. Reilly had taken their seats, the clouds had vanished, and sunlight was streaming through the dome.

Some pieces that came down the catwalk seemed to key perfectly into the garden setting; there were floral lace dresses edged in ruffles, floral-print dresses and voluminous ruffled gowns capped off with immense poufy shoulders resembling rosebuds. Also flitting through the collection were a few butterfly prints. But flowers powered only part of the runway collection, which also included a range of pieces in black and white; standouts included buttery soft black leather dresses and delicate white eyelet lace dresses, skirts and tops, and a grab bag of Valentine-worthy hearts that adorned tights and dresses.


Overall, there was an emphasis on volume — puffy sleeves, row upon row of ruffles and full-skirted ball gowns. Trousers were high-waisted; pant legs were generous; and the looks embodied the ultra-feminine style that has been the label’s stock-in-trade.

The overarching motif at Rodarte’s fall and winter 2019 runway show was the bow.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

There was one motif that tied everything together: bows, which seemed to turn up in every size, shape and fabrication and adorned just about every look that came across the runway. They were dime-sized and dainty on pale purple tights, pinned at the décolletage or knotted belt-like at the waist. Butterfly-like bows were flocked or allover printed onto diaphanous dresses. Bow ties marched down the front of puffy-shouldered dresses, and one model carried a blue bow about the size of a boogie board. (It’s worth noting that the ruffle-and-bow brigade has been out in force in this awards-show season.)

“We were inspired by musicals,” Kate Mulleavy said backstage after the show. “Not really a specific musical but some of the films we’ve been watching lately — anything from ‘All That Jazz’ to Ginger Rogers — the Golden era of Hollywood.”

Mulleavy said that the fall and winter 2019 collection was about a month out from completion when they decided to show at the Huntington. “So, I don’t feel [the venue] had too much to do with [the look and feel of] the collection. That being said, when we were working on it, it felt very much like we were in a butterfly garden. And then we noticed that some of the butterfly stuff looked like bows.”

Looks from the fall and winter 2019 Rodarte runway show.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Mulleavy said she wasn’t exactly sure where the bows had bubbled up from. “The bows are definitely all over,” she said. “Every season there’s something that’s in the zeitgeist and, for whatever reason, a bow just seemed right. And I think there’s something about coming and doing our first show in L.A. — being in our hometown — that’s about tying it all together. There’s some connection, but I don’t know if it’s more of an unconscious thing.”

Both Mulleavys said it felt markedly different to stage a show here. “It’s so calm — the L.A. vibe is very different,” Laura Mulleavy said. “You kind of pick up on that in some weird way. It was really lovely to be at home and in your own [eco]system while dealing with all the craziness.”


“For us it was really special,” added Kate, “because we grew up coming to the Huntington, and we live in Pasadena. It just felt like the right thing to do — it just felt natural. And, doing a show in L.A. is so much fun. The energy is so different. There was all this California energy backstage. We just loved it. We said we should all do this again.”

Which brings us back to the bigger question about L.A. and its place on the fashion-show circuit.

“I just think we’re in a timeframe where you can do the shows where you want to do them,” Kate Mulleavy said. “Fashion is everywhere. It’s not specific to any one place, and I think that expressive and creative process is really opening up right now. I think eventually you’ll be able to even do shows when you want.”

Celebrity attendees at the February 5, 2019, show in San Marino included, from left, Dakota Fanning, Brie Larson, Tracee Ellis Ross and John C. Reilly.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)


Other high-profile FOR (Friends of Rodarte) turned out for the mid-day show and cocktail party (which doubled as a launch event for sponsor JNSQ’s Rosé Cru) included Rowan Blanchard, Jenny Lewis, costume designer Arianne Phillips, Dakota Fanning, the sisters Haim, and Elijah Wood. On the way out of the show, we caught up with Reilly (who had first been introduced to the Mulleavys by mutual friend Autumn de Wilde) to see what he thought about his first-ever fashion show.

“The craftsmanship was amazing,” he said. “Each piece really tells its own story.” As much as he enjoyed it though, he said he wasn’t about to hit the fashion-show circuit — no matter where it took place.

“I’m not going to go to another fashion show until Rodarte starts doing men’s [clothing],” he said jokingly, “and I’m in [the fashion] show.”

That sounds like it could be another fun first for Rodarte — just waiting to be tied up in one big butterfly bow.


For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn