FROM THE MAGAZINE

Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy Share Their Life in Parties


Greg Kessler.
Photo by Greg Kessler.

For Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, the parties that follow their biannual runway shows are just as important as the romantic, red carpet–ready looks they design each season. “A party lets you take that experience and put it in perspective,” Laura says. The brand, which the duo started in 2005, when Laura was 24 and Kate was 25, has become a favorite of Kirsten Dunst, Chloë Sevigny, and Elle Fanning—close friends of the sisters who wear Rodarte dresses at premieres and house parties with equal ease. “When you look back on what fulfills you, it’s not necessarily just the tangible things that you’ve made,” Laura says. “In a way, you remember the process and your interactions with people more.”

Courtesy of Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

Fashion Week afterparties aren’t the only soirées for which the Mulleavy sisters are known. They’ve also hosted an annual Christmas “prom” in Los Angeles with Kirsten Dunst for more than 10 years. Past themes for the bash have included Labyrinth, Back to the Future, and Cheers. Here, Kate and Laura (left and second from right) pose with Rodarte stylists Ashley Furnival (second from left) and Shirley Kurata (right) at the Pretty in Pink edition. “We met Shirley in New York right before our first fashion show,” Kate says. “We literally had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t go to school for fashion; we didn’t even have a loose background. Our friend Autumn de Wilde was with us, and saw us freaking out the day before and said, ‘I think we need to call my friend Shirley in L.A. She might know what to do.’ Shirley flew out that day and spent the night helping us.”

Courtesy of Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

Kate and Laura’s mother, Victoria Mulleavy, is an excellent cook, baker, and host who relished throwing parties and serving outstanding food when the sisters were growing up. “Her father was from Mexico, and her mom was from Italy,” Kate says. “She has two really great cuisines to pull from.”

Courtesy of Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

Courtesy of Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

Courtesy of Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

“Kate was very jealous it was my birthday,” Laura says of the photo above from her 6th birthday, at the Mulleavy family home in Aptos, California. “This is a legendary photo in my house, because after this, I seemed to end up getting a present on my sister’s birthday every year,” Kate adds.

Greg Kessler.

Conveniently enough, Kate’s and Laura’s birthdays coincide with the fall and spring Fashion Weeks, respectively. Their fall 2019 collection (above) was the first they debuted in their hometown of Los Angeles. “It felt more like a giant fashion party than a runway show,” Laura says. “The photo we got backstage fully represents what it felt like, because even the audience was cheering. It was a very different experience than doing something in Paris or New York.”

Autumn De Wilde.

The sisters’ involvement in film goes beyond their own productions: They designed key costumes for Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 thriller, Black Swan. Above: Kate snaps a photo of Laura and Natalie Portman during a final fitting on set.

Rich Fury/Getty Images.

A neon sign at a Los Angeles event.

Estrop/Getty Images.

“What we do has a true independent spirit,” Kate says. “What it comes down to is a group of friends who have come together and worked on these shows. The group has expanded over the years, but that’s really the essential magic of it.” Above: The set at the spring 2018 show, in Paris, was defined by a riot of flowers.

Autumn De Wilde.

Every fashion label has its crew of “friends of the brand,” but Rodarte’s posse isn’t just party filler. Dunst, in particular, is a kindred spirit and frequent artistic collaborator. Above, she and the designers catch up between takes on the Humboldt, California, set of Woodshock, the feature film the Mulleavys wrote and directed in 2017, starring Dunst.

Autumn De Wilde.

Dunst, in a sorbet-hued Rodarte dress, at the very first prom, in 2007. Together, the actress and the Mulleavys decide on each year’s concept in a group chat. “We just pick things that have iconic meaning to our group of friends,” Laura says.

Brett Ramey.

“We love to do karaoke with our friends. For holiday parties, for house parties, it comes out and you just have a good time,” says Laura, whose porch is a frequent venue for impromptu sing-alongs. “It’s not a very professional setup, but it’s a box, and it works.”

Courtesy of Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

January Jones is “always up for fun,” Laura says of the actor (above, left). “She is someone you go bowling with. She just wants to have a good time.” And she always comes to prom fully dedicated to her character of choice. For one ’80s-inspired iteration, Jones underwent such a drastic hair and makeup transformation that she was unrecognizable to most guests.

Courtesy of Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

Decorations can make or break a party or fashion show, Kate and Laura explain; they consider set design a feat of world-building. For their Pretty in Pink prom, they re-created the record store from the film down to the Rolodex. “It’s a good thing we live in Los Angeles,” Kate says. “There are prop houses everywhere.”

Autumn De Wilde.

Brie Larson, another good friend, is pictured here with artist Alia Penner at the Labyrinth prom. Larson, who often wears Rodarte on the red carpet, is something of a muse for the sisters. “We’ve grown up with a lot of the talent whom we’ve created with, or created for,” Kate says.

Courtesy Of Tessa Thompson.

The sisters first met Tessa Thompson in 2014, when the actress wore Rodarte to the Selma premiere. “We just knew we would be lifelong friends,” Kate recalls. “We all hung out immediately: me, Kirsten, Laura, and Tessa.” Here, Thompson poses in a Rodarte confection at a Halloween house party in L.A.

Autumn De Wilde.

For the earlier proms, guests pulled together outfits from their own wardrobes. But the ensembles have gotten more elaborate over the years, and have included some custom Rodarte dresses the sisters designed for themselves, staffers, and friends. After someone suggested getting rid of the old party looks, the Mulleavys tasked Furnival with cataloging and archiving them—including this sequin, tulle, and silk satin style Kate wore in 2017—“for the pure legacy of it all,” Laura says. “I called her up one day, and I said, ‘Listen, these are extremely important.’ ”

Autumn De Wilde.

“We love playing the Cheers song at our Fashion Week afterparties,” Kate says. Above: Their close friend Zach Cowie, who consults on the music for the Rodarte shows, mans the DJ booth. “That’s not his hair, by the way,” Kate notes. “It’s a wig that he uses over and over again.”

Autumn De Wilde.

The Labyrinth prom will go down in the Rodarte history books. “I had never seen people so dedicated to theme dressing,” Kate recalls. Above: Revelers, including pal David Black (center right, with his arms up), on the dance floor.

Autumn De Wilde.

Zach Cowie.