Podcast Ep. 72, RONALD VAN DER KEMP - RETHINKING COUTURE
EPISODE 72 FEATURES RONALD VAN DER KEMP
VOGUE once called him a “high-end scavenger”. Meet Dutch designer Ronald Van Der Kemp - the "sustainable couturier" behind RVDK. Fans include Lady Gaga and Kate Moss, Emma Watson, Lena Dunham and Celine Dion.
While he was still in college, Ronald wrote a thesis on fashion and nature, and designed a collection using vintage materials. He then spent two decades working in luxury fashion for the likes of Barney's, Bill Blass, Guy Laroche and Celine.
Now he's come full circle. Today, brand RVDK - which shows at Paris couture week - focuses on sustainability, and uses reclaimed, vintage and archival fabric. Ronald describes his approach to couture as: “Dressing ageless strong personalities that expect exclusivity, originality and high quality.''
In this interview, recorded in his Amsterdam atelier ahead of his Spring ‘19 couture show, Clare and Ronald discuss the balancing ethics and integrity with glamour and fun. Yes, that is possible.
Ronald describes his approach to couture as: “Dressing ageless strong personalities that expect exclusivity, originality and high quality.''
“FOR ME THERE’S NO RULES. I MAKE MY OWN RULES.” - RONALD VAN DER KEMP
“You need to save up for clothes. Clothes should be something you keep, not that you buy to throw away. We need to change our mentality. That’s my mission in this world.” - Ronald van der Kemp.
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…
RVDK is on a mission to show the world that ethical fashion can be glamorous and exciting.
THE WARDROBE CONCEPT Ronald presents his collections, not as traditional seasons, but as a consecutive series of “Wardrobes”. These are clothes to collect, to build upon, and to revisit for years to come. Wardrobe 1 launched in 2015.
COUTURE Haute couture literally means high sewing, although only fashion houses conforming to strict regulations are allowed, by the Fédération de la Haute Couture, to use it. Unlike read-to-wear, you can’t jut stroll into a shop to buy couture. It’s made to order, especially for you. As they say, if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.
Today haute couture is pure imagination set free, without constraints. When price is no object, what’s to stop Chanel charging $77,000 for a beaded gown? Or Armani Prive, $200,000 for one of theirs? More work, more money. Okay, fair cop. Watch Dior and I to understand the level of artistry involved.
But the history of the Paris couture was not always so extravagant. In the past, these made-to-measure clothes were expensive, but they weren’t only for celebrities and billionaires. Women in Paris saved up to visit their favourite couturiers, to order suits and special coats and dresses that would last a lifetime.
For a detailed history of the history and evolution of couture, see Clare’s book Wardrobe Crisis, Chapters 2. (The Couture Effect) and 5. (Status Anxiety). Buy your copy here.
So what is COUTURE WITH A CONSCIENCE? Isn’t this industry already that way, since it’s made by highly skilled - and highly valued - craftspeople using top end materials? It’s surely immune to overproduction since it’s made to order. NO ONE throws a couture gown in the bin, do they?
However, Ronald, like other guests on this podcast, reports that this is a misnomer. Couture houses also waste and destroy fabric that is over-ordered or surplus to requirement.
Ronald’s solution is not to order fabric at all! Instead, he used only vintage, archival, deadstock and left over rolls for what he calls his (demi-)couture wardrobes. He makes to order and in limited editions, keeping a cap on prices. The resulting pieces are no less beautiful for that. In fact, they’re more beautiful, don’t you think?
“Each style is ethically made with high-end existing materials and leftovers, and crafted by hand by small ateliers and artisans in Holland,” says Ronald.
NAN KEMPNER was a New York socialite, known for being very rich, very thin and dressing in couture. It was Tom Wolfe who coined the term the Social X-ray in Bonfire of the Vanities. ‘[Kempner’s] father once told her, “You’ll never make it on your face, so you’d better be interesting.” And so she made herself into a character through fashion. Not long after buying her first couture gown in the early fifties—a white Dior sheath—she joined the Junior Council at the Museum of Modern Art, a perfect springboard to the city’s social circuit, where she soon became a fixture and, says a friend, “an instant celebrity.” After a stint as a fashion editor in the sixties, she became a muse to Yves Saint Laurent: “He taught me a very important thing: All a woman needs is a good trench coat, a pair of black pants, a long black skirt, a short black skirt, and lots of tops.” ‘ Via New York magazine. Read the article in full here.
The book Clare mentions about Kempner and her ilk and their beloved fashion designers is John Fairchild’s Chic Savages. The one Clare couldn’t remember is Nicolas Coleridge’s The Fashion Conspiracy. Gripping.
INES AND VINOODH are NY-based Dutch photographer duo Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, who’ve worked together since 1986. They came to prominence shooting for The Face in the ‘90s, and have a long association with Vogue Paris, V and W. We like this NYT interview with them. Oh, and they just launched a jewellery line. Like their student friend Ronald, they were obsessed with HELMUT NEWTON. You don’t need us to tell you who Newton was, do you? Further reading here.
CONTOURING “using darker shades of concealer or foundation to create dimension and a more defined facial structure — had long been employed by makeup artists, but five years ago, the technique went mainstream, and was soon followed by the rise of the complementary practices of strobing (applying light, often shimmery shades on the higher planes of the face) and baking (applying a thick coat of powder on the cheeks to set makeup and neutralize harsh angles). This isn’t so much the season as it is the era of face architecture.” Via New York Times Style.
According to the Independent: ‘This “Instagram” look will be what defines the makeup of the 2010s. In decades to come, it’ll be what the skinny eyebrows of Mae West were to the 1930s, and the equivalent of Twiggy’s doe-eyed lashes to the 1960s.’ Ronald’s not keen, and he’s not the only one. The Guardian reports that non-touring is trending.
DISTRACTION. This is what Ronald told Tim Blanks: “People are looking for opportunity and fashion is letting them down. When you’ve seen one girl at a fashion show, you might as well leave. You’ve seen it all. That’s why they do all these big sets, all this other stuff, to distract from the clothes. It’s about who screams the hardest. That’s how Trump got elected. Brands make too much noise, people are waiting for the opposite, the whisper, not the scream.” Read the interview in full on Business of Fashion.
RVDK REJECTS THE “NEVER-ENDING PARADE OF RUNWAY SHOWS THAT EACH SEASON GET MORE ELABORATE AND COSTLY WITH MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR DECORS, MILITARY REGIMENTED PRODUCTIONS AND CELEBRITY FRONT ROWS MEANT TO BE FASHION-TAINMENT.”
A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.
THANK YOU FOR JOINING THE WARDROBE CRISIS CONVERSATION. WE'LL HAVE A NEW EPISODE FOR YOU EVERY WEEK. CAN YOU HELP US SPREAD THE WORD? WE'D LOVE YOU TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS & LEAVE A REVIEW IN iTUNES.
Until next time,