Laguna designer Lisa Rodarte shares the inspiration behind her stunning textiles and home decor items, often made with colorful French dyes and silky fabrics.
By Ashley Breeding
Behind her home studio in Bluebird Canyon, tall, twisted eucalyptus trees shade a wild rose garden and wooden frame from the beating sun. It’s here that Laguna artist Lisa Rodarte will design her next creation. She dips a flat brush into French dye diluted with water, then sweeps the watercolor-like hues across a wide sheet of stretched silk. Repeating this movement several times, Rodarte layers her “canvas” with three or four other colors, overlapping to create new shades with each stroke.
“These blues and greens I use are inspired by living at the beach,” she says of the multicolored textile she’ll have sewn into a slip dress when she’s finished. Originally a surfwear designer, Rodarte began experimenting with this “freestyle” technique, which led to a whimsical collection of one-of-a-kind dresses, kimonos and home decor items she created under the Painted Lady label. Inspired by foreign travel and landscapes, Rodarte continues to expand her technique as well as her collection. Rodarte’s pieces are carried at Huit and Lala: A Kerry Cassill Store, both in Laguna. Custom orders can be requested on her website, paintedladyxx.com.
Here, she reveals more about her influences and interests, as well as what she has planned for the future.
Your mother, Lydia Delgado, is a well-known local watercolor painter. How has she inspired you?
My mother is my mentor in so many ways. Growing up, I watched her follow her passion, and she always encouraged me to explore my creativity and make art my livelihood, too. Her work has definitely inspired my painting technique, and she’s still my favorite person to bounce ideas off of. In this community, I’ve always been surrounded by many successful career artists, and I am so inspired by all of them.
What were your artistic interests as a child?
I’ve always been intrigued by color and self-expression, and have been painting and designing my whole life. As a kid, I carried around a Vogue magazine as a coloring book, drawing over the beautiful clothes.
When you started your career in fashion design, why did you choose the surf industry?
I started working in the industry 18 years ago while studying [fashion] design at Orange Coast College, at a very inspiring time when many of the surf brands were emerging. We had a lot of freedom to try new things and set trends. … When I saw a stranger on the street wearing one of my designs—this gauzy, boho dress—for the first time, I was hooked.
How was Painted Lady born?
I wanted to express myself in a way that I’d always dreamed of—a line of hand-painted, luxury silks with a strong emphasis on color, texture and silhouettes. It all came together in my backyard, where I still paint today.
How spontaneous is the process?
Very. I think the color combinations through, but the painting presents itself as I go. The layering of color creates the depth, design and movement. A piece can take an hour or 10 hours.
Your outside studio is both beautiful and helps the garments dry faster. Do you take the day off when it rains?
I create a makeshift studio in my living room.
What other tools and colors do you use?
In addition to brushes, I sometimes use sponges. The line started out with Laguna blues and greens, but I have also started using darker colors like wine … as well as yellows and golds.
Is there a particular country that inspires you the most?
Japan—the landscape, temples, textiles, art and culture as a whole—[has] … inspired me the most. As a denim designer for a clothing brand, I went to Tokyo to experiment with indigos and dyes. But I came back instead inspired to do my own thing. Any time I travel, I come back with new ideas for colors and silhouettes, and a passion to work.
You’ve now designed dresses, kimonos, pillows, hat bands and scarves. What’s next?
Maybe curtain panels and headboards. And I’d like to frame larger textiles as artwork.
Describe the woman who wears your dresses.
She’s unique, confident and sexy. I design a lot of custom pieces for women who want to choose their colors.