In January, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of fashion design company Rodarte scored a profile in the New Yorker by Amanda Fortini, a feat that took designer Karl Lagerfeld more decades of work to achieve than the sisters from Pasadena have lived, says the Wall Street Journal.
Rodarte is great because, as Fortini writes, it is where the beautiful meets the baroque:
Rodarte is great because the garments include a multitude of textiles and finicky ones, like tulle, organza, leather and lace), adornments (crystals, feathers, rosettes) and techniques (draping, pleating, dyeing).
Rodarte is great because the designers had no formal fashion training, learned basic sewing techniques from their mother and their creative vision is cinematic, inspired by horror movies and the work of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu.
A recent feature on the Mulleavy sisters in RVCA ANP Quarterly sourced inspirations as diverse as the Space Shuttle, Frankenstein, Star Wars, burning Klu Klux Clan crucifixes, Stonehenge and seminal works of European art like Rachel Whiteread's House and Joseph Beuys' I Like America and America Likes Me.
In case your avant-garde funny-bone hasn't been tickled enough by now, the New Yorker reports a scene in the Rodarte studio of the designers setting fire to a piece of polyster fabric and collections in which all the clothing had been burned, stained, shredded, sandpapered or in some way "ruined".
And the article snoops a bulletin board in the designers' studio carrying images of paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, California condors, testing of the atomic bomb in the Nevada Desert and Degas' ballerina sculpture - a wistfulness in the foreground of much of the imaging of their work...
...and explicit in their latest collection:
Until March 14, Rodarte have an installation at the The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York - and if you are in the area, visit it.
But there's a moral in my tale (and it comes with a hat-tip to a comment made to me by Robert Hewison, a cultural historian and keen follower of the English art critic and social thinker John Ruskin).
There's a reawakening of romantic anti-capitalism in culture and politics just now. In the U.K., you can see it in protest by the establishment against a third runway at Heathrow Airport, government endorsement of co-operativism, a policy rush on 'mass localism' and civic organizations like the National Trust turning sections of its property over to food-growing.
Rodarte is romantic, born from the obsession of two sisters brought up among the redwood trees of a small town near Santa Cruz, California, to quote Fortini. They burn stuff, love the spikey and fierce and are committed to beauty - albeit one that retails up to $25,000 a piece.
The two trends are worlds apart. But together they say something.
Romance and anti-materialism is an aesthetic. It has tradition. It is optimistic, often creatively destructive - a brilliant antidote to an age of disappointment or light at the end of a post-apocalyptic tunnel.
But it can be expensive. No small part of the romance rests in the eccentric and the kinky. And if you work too hard to co-opt those values in to something consensual, you may kill the very spirit that you admire.