Rodarte x Universal Standard
Before 2015, a woman above size 16 would be hard-pressed to find a clever outfit to wear to work or even an on-trend, well-fitting pair of jeans. That’s why Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler founded Universal Standard, a direct-to-consumer women’s clothing business, with the mission to make every item in sizes from 00 to 40.
They started simple, with just eight pieces in every size. They ditched the overly chatty jargon associated with plus-size clothing—“Sears, Roebuck catalog copy,” as Waldman jokingly referred to it—and made clothing with an editorial bent that women across the size spectrum could love. Since that initial collection, Universal Standard has expanded to workout wear, with more practical categories on the horizon. But today, the brand aimed at perfecting every woman’s everyday wardrobe is doing something different: vaulting itself into full-fantasy territory with a four-piece collaboration with Rodarte.
The four items—a dress, a blouse, a skirt, and a jumpsuit—come in black, blush, ivory, and cherry red and will launch online and in Universal Standard’s Soho store today, priced at $150 to $240. “We had a very short list of people to collaborate with,” began Veksler. “We wanted to get people involved who were not part of the inclusivity and diversity movement per se but who we felt might be interested in raising their hands and saying, ‘This is great, and this is the right thing to do.’ Rodarte was at the top of our list.”
Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy didn’t need much convincing. “We had already been excited about what they were doing, and so when they reached out to us it was just like an amazing creative moment,” said Kate Mulleavy. “I instantly felt when we all spoke on the phone that there was a creative spark and that we wanted to come together and do something really incredible.”
Of course making a $240 dress available in dozens of sizes is a far cry from what the Mulleavys are known for at their own label, where one of their tiered, ruffled, and embroidered gowns can easily come with a five-figure price tag. “We are an independent company, and what we do is as close in the ready-to-wear space as you can get to a limited production run and couture,” said Laura, explaining that she and her sister drew on Universal Standard’s know-how to create the pieces without compromising their aesthetic identity. “It is really exciting to know that anyone could access these pieces. This is actually the first time we’ve ever done something where someone can see it and buy it immediately.”
As the Mulleavys tell it, their mission wasn’t to distill the magic of Rodarte into something down-market or commercially viable but to emphasize what they see as the core of their design principals. “It was really about Rodarte’s voice—I think that was really important for us to bring to the table,” began Kate. “We wanted to start with what felt like signature pieces that could be the building blocks to have a great wardrobe, pieces that you could style in a lot of different ways, that could go from evening to day, that could travel easily, and yet still be very elevated and fashion-forward. I think we have a romantic voice in our design, but it’s also forward-thinking. This collection has an interesting balance between that.”
“For me, Rodarte is pure magic,” said Waldman. “It’s ethereal. I look at their stuff and it literally takes my breath away.” Capturing that magic for a new demographic was key for Universal Standard and something the brand actively tried to do in the collaboration’s editorial and e-commerce imagery. No boring poses. No icky copy. “We really were very keen in speaking in an editorial language that is the type of thing you would see in magazines like Vogue rather than in a catalog you would pick up somewhere in a department store,” she continued, noting that for decades women of a certain size were barred from dressing ethereally or prettily because of outdated conventions of size.
“Clothes are not just the things you put on your back, as we all know,” said Waldman. “They are your identity. They are your armor. They are your choice for presenting yourself to the world. When somebody takes that away from you, it’s hard, and it hurts, and it’s insulting.” Veksler added: “We wanted to build a company where it didn’t matter if you were a size 2 or a size 32. The only question that you would have to ask yourself is, ‘Do I like something?’ Not, ‘Does this come in my size?’ ”
For the Rodarte designers, bottling a bit of their magic for the mainstream was far from a struggle. “As their statement says, their mission is to design for anyone to wear, and I think that was all the design inspiration we needed,” said Laura. Kate added, “If we make pieces that can connect and become a part of someone’s life, and they can be creative with it and have fun, and it can be a part of different experiences for them to have, then I feel that we’ve succeeded.”