The Mulleavy Sisters, the Ackermans and the Alchemy of Creativity

Laura Mulleavy with a rack of tutusOne of the blessings of hosting DnA — and working at KCRW in general — is the chance to meet extremely interesting people. For example, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the magical, mysterious Pasadena sisters who are the fashion design company, Rodarte, and guests on this month’s DnA.  They designed the ballet costumes for Black Swan, and they have a show of work, States of Matter, opening next month at MOCA PDC, not to mention their new fall collection was just unveiled in New York.

I visited them recently in their studio in downtown LA, a high-ceilinged, airy space filled with racks of their exquisitely crafted, ethereal dresses. Both sporting long black hair and casual clothes, the sisters seemed intensely focused and completely lacking in guile. They have similar voices and laughs and a shared ability to talk at great speed about the multiple inspirations for their designs (horror films, Sylvia Plath poetry, the California wilderness, Tornado alley, just for starters). The day I visited it was stormy outside with rain tapping on the overhead glass,  so they brought to mind the Bronte sisters –albeit without the miserable home life–for their private shared world and the wonderfully Gothic imagination that feeds their work.

Jerome and Evelyn Ackerman, at their showCoincidentally, I met another designing duo, Jerome and Evelyn Ackerman, also guests on this show, talking about the love that has bound their work together for six decades. The Ackermans, makers of ceramics, metalwork, carved wood, woven wallhangings and other handmade housewares since they founded a design partnership in the early 1950s, are currently the subject of a show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM).

I met them in their house in Culver City that has served as home and workspace for decades; it is filled with objects and artefacts, including Evelyn’s collections of antique dolls, and there they are now taking life more slowly as Evelyn recovers from a long illness and Jerry cares for her. But what emanates from Jerry and Evelyn, now 91 and 87, is the devotion they share for each other as much, reflected in the gentleness and sweetness of the work in their show, appropriately called, A Marriage of Craft and Design.

The process, or alchemy, of creativity is a fascinating one, especially when it involves two people (why, for example, were John and Paul or Mick and Keith never so brilliant without each other?). The Mulleavy sisters and the Ackermans offered me a peek into that shared creative world.

But if there is anything creative people, together or individually, share, it is obsession and passion, which can be intoxicating. Exhibit A: Nick Verreos, another guest on the show and the extremely high-energy and charming designer, Project Runway alumnus, Red Carpet host, and Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing (FIDM) teacher. He held court at the opening of FIDM’s 19th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibit, and his enthusiasm for the show was utterly infectious.

Exhibit B; Cathy Whitlock, interior designer, writer and aficionado of all things movie-style related. She writes a blog named Cinema Style and wrote the book, Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction, which will fascinate anyone intrigued by how that anonymous actor — the set — helps shape story and character in great movies past and present.