Americans in Paris

Rodarte's Homage to Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley (where they studied with future fashion stars Patrik Ervell and Opening Ceremony's Humberto Leon and Carol Lim), Kate and Laura Mulleavy headed home to Pasadena, California, and spent a year doing unconventional research: watching as many horror films as their local video store could supply. The result was their bolt-out-of-the blue fashion line Rodarte, which has earned them a CFDA Award and royal status in fashion's inner circles. The duo's film fetish remains at the core of their designs—for every fashion show, they team up with the Criterion Collection to give away a DVD to front row guests. Their latest project is inspired by Godard's New Wave classic Breathless as it reaches its 50th anniversary. The film, a new print of which began screening in US theaters this month, has been responsible for its fair share of trends—most notably, the gamine pixie haircut sported throughout by Jean Seberg, which went on to define the decade. Now, it looks set to hit the wardrobes of shoppers at Barneys New York, Colette in Paris and Dover Street Market in London via a small collection of T-shirts designed by Rodarte, including a reworking of the New York Herald Tribune tee Seberg wears in the film and styles printed with French and American versions of a new Breathless poster (of which limited signed prints will be available in stores) the Mulleavys created with graphic designer Patrick Li. We caught up with the sisters to chat about the project.

When did you first see A Bout de Souffle (Breathless)?
Laura:
Kate and I saw Breathless in an old [University of California] Berkeley theater that used to show amazing films while we were in college. We found it to be a complete break from all the traditional narrative cinema we had grown up watching.

Who do you empathize most with in the film––the character of Michel or of Patricia?
Kate: Michel.
Laura: He is the ultimate con artist but in the end, you realize that Patricia was conning him more than he conned her.

Both became style icons––what do you love most about their looks? 
Laura: I love Michel’s furrowed brow.
Kate: I love when Patricia wears Michel’s fedora for the first time.

Why do you think that 50 years on the film still looks so fresh?
Laura: Godard is a renegade. In Breathless, he broke all of the rules and formulas within the lexicon of film. His use of wordplay, his interest in time, and his ability to translate stream-of-consciousness writing to images was groundbreaking.
Kate: Some of our favorite films are Godard’s Weekend, Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad, Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7, and Eric Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse.  
Laura: Kate and I have always responded to stream-of-conscious writing and film and our approach to storytelling is similar.

You're designing tees inspired by the film––is it hard to work with images that have become so iconic?
Kate: We wanted to work with The New York Herald Tribune [T-shirt that Patricia wears] because it is so iconic to the film and pivotal in creating the idea of the innocent American in Paris that Godard eventually rejects.

You recently visited Paris for the first time. What did you think?
Laura: I was immediately shocked by the open streets and the muted colors of the city landscape. We couldn’t believe the similarities of Paris to Los Angeles. It is a city divided by space and architecture, and a city built on a river—but Los Angeles has the 5 Freeway instead of the Seine.

What is the last thing that you saw that made you feel inspired?
Laura: Marfa, Texas

What would you say to someone who is lacking inspiration in their life?
Kate: We always say how important it is to keep your eyes open.
Laura: Always be looking.

In today's interview Kate and Laura Mulleavey responded to several questions suggested by the NOWNESS Facebook and Twitter communities. Join the conversation by visiting us on Facebook at facebook.com/nowness or following us on Twitter at twitter.com/nowness
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