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Rodarte feathers ‘Swan’ tutus

Ties with Portman drew couture team into movies

Sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy have produced 12 hit collections since launching Rodarte in 2005, and their gowns have been worn by actresses such as Keira Knightley, Kirsten Dunst, Tilda Swinton and Reese Witherspoon on numerous red carpets.

It was their longtime relationship with Natalie Portman that led Darren Aronofsky to hire Laura and Kate to create the Swan Queen and Black Swan ballet costumes Portman wears in the onscreen performances in “Black Swan.” (Amy Westcott was the film’s costume designer.)

“Their clothes and collection around the time (we were prepping) were very balletic like — a lot of tulle and invisible lace,” Portman says. “(Laura and Kate) are also huge horror movie fans — real horror movie connoisseurs. The two components, to me, made the perfect pairing.”

For the sisters, their first foray into film was like “a dream.”

“This was the first time that we were creatively involved with someone else’s vision,” Laura says. “It was a totally different process for us.”

While they based their Fall 2008 collection on ballerinas and Japanese horror films, the duo endured an “intense research period” before constructing any of the film’s ensembles last winter.

“The movie captures this idea that ballet has a projection of beauty while the internal side of it is very brutal, which we wanted to play out in the clothes,” Laura says.

Based out of Los Angeles, Rodarte (their mother’s maiden name) is stocked globally while their designs have graced the cover of more than 20 international publications. Recently Laura (30) and Kate (31) became the first fashion designers to be honored with a National Art Award from Americans for the Arts.

“The girls themselves are artists, and they know everything about everything — from science to film to ecology to art,” Portman says. “Their perpetual curiosity translates into really unique clothes.”

The sisters meticulously labor over every design, which in the case of “Black Swan” meant an army of tutus.

“The tutus had to be completely functioning,” Laura says. “The dancers had to dance in them, and Natalie had to be lifted while wearing them. So the most difficult part for us was wanting something to look extremely beautiful up close and also be very realistic.”

Laura says that she and Kate are “extremely proud” of achieving that dichotomy, and that the costumes “are definitely the most beautiful things we’ve ever made.”

More from Award Season Focus: The Women
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