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In Their First Film, Fashion’s Most Enchanting Designers Try Normal Clothing

The sisters behind Rodarte bring their dark sensibility to Woodshock, starring Kirsten Dunst.

Kirsten Dunst walks down the street against a green neon light.
Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock.
Photo: Woodshock

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In 1999 and 2006, Kirsten Dunst starred in two Sofia Coppola movies that became lasting influences on fashion collections, photo shoots, and teenagers’ magazine scrap mood boards (later, their Tumblrs). First was The Virgin Suicides, with its troubled high schoolers in girlish white dresses, and then Marie Antoinette, with its absolute decadence.

The clothing found in Dunst’s new film, Woodshock, won’t inspire legions of imitators, but it’s already a moment in fashion history. It was written and directed by Laura and Kate Mulleavy, the sisters behind the cult clothing label Rodarte, an object of obsession for many of the same people who love those Coppola movies.

Woodshock, out today, centers on Theresa (Dunst), a woman who works in a medical marijuana dispensary in Humboldt County, California, and helps her mother die via some unnamed drug. Theresa is thrown into a world of grief and isolation; she does a lot of hallucinogens and wanders the redwood forest; other people get hurt, badly.

Dunst sits at the base of a tree, wearing blue jeans and a white knit t-shirt.
Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock.
Photo: Woodshock

Rodarte is frequently described as “darkly romantic” — feminine and rarely carefree — and its past collections have included spiderweb-like knits, glam-rock layers of sparkle and ruffles, and frothing lace gowns. More than once, the Mulleavys have styled their runway models with earrings and headpieces made from live flowers. Their work is singular and labor-intensive, a frequent presence on red carpets but not always accessible for everyday wear.

If you’re looking for Rodarte in Woodshock, you’ll find it everywhere: in the glimmering visual layering that accompanies Theresa’s hallucinations, in the flowers that appear in nearly every scene, in the dispensary’s neon lights and lush plant life (a staple of Rodarte runway show sets). You’ll also find it in Theresa’s costuming, but only if you look really closely.

The Mulleavys describe Woodshock as a psychological experience, and they wanted to reflect Theresa’s mental progression in her clothing. With costume designer Christie Wittenborn, they made eight versions of a slip dress that’s at turns iridescent, smudged with dirt, and, when Theresa makes her way into the woods, feathered and sewn through with real moss and twigs.

Dunst walks across a field of felled trees in a gray slip.
Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock.
Photo: Woodshock

Still, much of Woodshock’s clothing is stunningly normal for a Mulleavy production. (The two designed a number of the elaborate ballet costumes in Black Swan.) In one scene, Theresa sits in her bathroom, lost in thought, in a lace bra with pink straps. It’s an image that’s immediately recognizable to any woman who’s worn her underwear around the house when nobody’s home, not as a performance of sexiness but just because that’s what she has on. Lingerie, so often marketed as a tool for seduction, is just as often irrelevant to the person wearing it.

“We had to pick an image [for promotional materials], and we wanted to use a shot of her on the bathtub in the pink bra,” says Laura. “Someone said we can’t use nudity, and I was like, ‘Nudity?’ This is the most pure image of a woman you’re ever going to see. Victoria’s Secret ads are sexualized. This is about a woman’s experience that’s emotional and very raw.”

Thus far, film critics have greeted Woodshock with less-than-favorable reviews. Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times called it “depressingly dull and terminally inarticulate” — “pretty enough, in the superficially embellished style of a perfume ad or fashion video.”

For the Mulleavys, though, it’s a turning point. While their clothing collections hint at a certain darkness, film has finally given them a vehicle to explore violence and pain explicitly. Unsurprisingly, it’s much less pretty.