Where Their Spirits Roam

Rodarte, Rodarte, Rodarte. Oh, Mulleavy sisters. *Sigh* When I started catching glimpses of their Fall line, I was excited; more layers and draping! And they did not disappoint.

The source of their inspiration for the collection came about during a road trip through Texas on a journey to explore their Mexican roots when

“…they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night. And that, according to the designers, who certainly know how to romance a pitch, led to this conclusion: They’d build a collection off the idea of sleepwalking.”

It is the romantic, softer version of their warrior-esque Spring line. Instead of sporting a deconstructed aesthetic with a smorgasbord of textures, the sisters rang in Fall with lighter colors, floral patterns and airy, cozier fabrics. 

“The show ended with a quartet of ethereal, unraveling, rather beautiful white dresses that alternately called to mind quinceañera parties, corpse brides, and, if you wanted to look at it through a really dark prism, the ghosts of the victims of Juárez’s drug wars.”

The concept is so simple and the sisters’ execution of their haunting vision was perfect. To top it off, the clothes were accessorized with these unbelievably awesome melted candle-wax heels by Nicholas Kirkwood. One can imagine lost souls wandering in the night with only the flickering flame from a candle to light their way. I would totally buy these shoes if 1) I had money and 2) I wore heels. Come to think of it, if I had money I would buy them anyway just to display on my fireplace mantle.

Because of their dark and slightly off-beat gothic creativity, Rodarte is by far one of my most favorite designers ever. So it was disheartening to hear about their collaboration with M.A.C. in creating a make-up line to accompany the Fall collection. On the surface, it only makes sense to complete the ensemble with a cosmetic line. But the collaboration hits a sour note when you learn that they’ve given the nail polish names like Factory and Juarez.

On the flip side, the controversy sparked by the collaboration actually brought awareness about the devastation in Ciudad Juarez. In reality, the impoverished conditions of those factory workers are neither romantic or dream-like. Far from it, in fact. Jessica Wakeman, one of the first bloggers who made the appalling connection between Rodarte’s Fall line and the women of Juarez stated,

“Juarez is an impoverished Mexican factory town notorious for the number of women between the ages of 12 and 22 who have been raped and murdered with little or no response from police. Most of the young women are employees at the border town’s factories, called maquiladoras, and disappeared on the way to or from work.”

I made these collages to show the cognitive dissonance between my love for Rodarte and my discomfort in their use of femicide as inspiration for fashion. When I started Googling images pertaining to “women of Juarez,” a crop of pictures depicting pink crosses came up and I remembered seeing a similar exhibit at a Day of the Dead celebration a few years back. There were pink crosses and altars for young women who had disappeared or died in Juarez. Ironically, Rodarte’s ghostly portrayal in their collection is an accurate reflection of how the femicide in Juarez is regarded; as surreal events that drift away like ghosts in the night, only to be forgotten. It’s sad, but I think it’s true of how violence against women has always been treated.

The designers and M.A.C. have responded in kind. In addition to a formal apology (and a real one, too, where they actually admit that they’ve fucked up), M.A.C. is changing the names of their make-up. They’re also scrapping their original plan to donate a portion of their profits to organizations serving the women in Juarez, and have announced that 100% of their profits will be donated to programs benefitting these women.

So where does that leave us? I, for one, am relieved that Rodarte and M.A.C. are taking responsibility for their ignorance. I don’t feel that their donation fully compensates for their mishap, but short of cancelling the launch altogether, what else would they do?

The question that remains for me is, when does art imitating life cross the line between acceptable and tasteless? The exploitation of someone’s pain for financial gain is a clear winner. And I always have to remind myself that people mess up, even those who feel the most socially conscious or don’t mean any harm. Before, in my more angry days, I would’ve cut off Rodarte altogether. The problem with cutting things off is in these types of situations is that the journey towards progress stops. Thankfully, I’ve learned to be more comfortable not having a clear answer. And honestly, I still love Rodarte. They’re just not the most socially conscious people out there. If anything, I hope this situation only motivates them to increase their awareness about bullshit that goes on in the world.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. michelle
    Dec 01, 2010 @ 08:48:20

    I respect this article. However, what offended me most was that Rodarte never issued a formal apology. They simply used their Mexican heritage as their excuse to exploit rape and murder for the sake of a webby t-shirt that they will sell for 1,000.00. They disgust me.

    Their models look like disgusting anorexic pseudo angels. I’m pretty positive that a mutilated, dark skinned, ethnic Mexican woman looks nothing like this as a ghost.

    I don’t know what the sisters were on when they decided to rewrite history by stupidly saying that Juarez was like “a sleep walking dream” instead of the blood bath it currently is. Their continuation with the line and their insistence on its meanings only show me how money hungry they are and how much they are denying their culture by attempting to utilize it to make a quick buck.

    Their disgusting.

    I think the real hero in this story is MAC. In the end, they not only pulled the ENTIRE line, but they STILL decided to donate all projected global profits to the women in Juarez. THAT is character, and I am honestly very proud of MAC as a company to be the bigger person in this and seek to redeem themselves.

    The Rodarte sisters can continue playing dress up. I have a feeling we will be seeing a line of striped holocaust inspired pajamas named “auschwitz” in the future. However, instead of seeing Genocide, they will probably say, “oh, we loved the barbed wire and hard core look of the place and it inspired us!”.

    Reply

  2. michelle
    Dec 01, 2010 @ 08:49:18

    they’re* disgusting. Excuse my poor spelling skills.

    Reply

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