News & Runway

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte

image: Getty

image: Getty

Love or hate her designs, Kate Mulleavy, who co-founded Rodarte with her sister Laura, is one of the few designers that defies the need for commercial appeal and consistently delivers envelope-pushing creations. While Rodarte’s designs tend to be ostentatious, Kate is anything but. In fact, after college she moved back in with her parents whom she counts as one of her biggest inspirations. Rodarte is the maiden name of her mother, Victoria, an artist who made Navajo weavings and taught her how to sew. Here are 10 more things you probably didn’t know about the demure designer.

  1. Back in 2007, a Vogue editor called Kate and her sister and suggested that they see a trainer and go on a diet. The magazine organized four months of personal training and a meal delivery service. The sisters lost a combined 50 pounds and kept a journal of their experiences, which appeared in the April 2008 issue of Vogue. The story received a huge amount of backlash.
  2. Kate, along with her sister, has won a number of awards, including a CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for fashion and a National Arts Award. Rodarte has also been exhibited in The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Kate has designed costumes for a performance of the Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam and the film Black Swan. There have also been Rodarte collaborations with Gap and Target.
  3. Fashion is more than just designing a dress for Kate, which explains why commercial appeal has never been first and foremost with any Rodarte collection. “I don’t look at fashion as a compartment. For me, fashion is one way to express something I’m thinking. It’s more about storytelling, and there are all these different outlets for that. For some designers, fashion is about just making a dress and they’re hugely successful. I admire that. My version is much different. I view fashion as one component of how my brain works. Hence, it never feels done for me on the runway. That’s one of the reasons why we constantly search for other projects. It’s a dynamic world,” she explained.
  4. Rodarte began in 2005 when Kate and her sister cold-pitched their debut collection of 10 pieces to fashion editors in New York City (their first trip to the Big Apple!) through a set of paper dolls outfitted with miniature versions of the garment. Within a few days, WWD put them on its cover.
  5. After graduating with a liberal arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley, Kate moved back to her parents’ cottage bungalow in California with the hopes of starting a fashion line. She and her sister managed to pull together about $20,000 in seed money for their first collection; Kate sold off 25 milk crates full of vintage records dating back to the 30s, while Laura saved her salary and tips from waitressing.
  6. The best advice Kate ever got was from Anna Wintour. “She could tell what we were doing was very personal, and she told us to keep it that way. Advice like that in the infancy stages was so crucial, and it’s a testament to Anna’s vision and commitment to American fashion. There are certain things that have led to our creative development — at a point where we were questioning how to do the thing we wanted to do — and that meeting was one of them,” she told TIME.
  7. Kate is from a small town in California. “It was cool, in a way. We grew up in Northern California, in a small town right next to Santa Cruz. It’s called Aptos. Have you seen that movie The Lost Boys? That’s what our town was like. Laura and I are still obsessed with vampires. Then we both went to college at Berkeley,” she recounted to Natalie Portman.
  8. Though her designs may be elaborate, when it comes to her everyday wear, she opts for casual clothes, telling Vogue U.K. that she and her sister are “casual and laidback — we love jeans and T-shirts.”
  9. Kate has often said that she and her sister are “like one,” and they sit across from each other at a wide work table when they’re designing. Things can sometimes get heated, however, and in those cases, according to WSJ. magazine, they pull out a thin fabric partition to signal that they shouldn’t be disturbed.
  10. Kate has always been good at drawing and is responsible for all of Rodarte’s final sketches.