The Dadaist mood that permeates Ronald van der Kemp’s demi-couture line has everything to do with his sourcing method. This high-end scavenger finds the materials at the luck of the draw, never above digging into dead stock, sifting through defunct ateliers or even unpicking old uniforms. On the occasion, he’s also commissioned handwoven fabrics from female artisans in Mali and India. You could say he’s never met a fabric in which he didn’t see some redeeming quality.
For his fifth collection, the patched denims, coat dress and somewhat flamboyant blouses that have become his signatures happily featured, building on the idea of a wardrobe. There is nothing that is more reminiscent of the Dutch fashion veteran’s work than the phrase “shop your closet”. Here is a joyful clash the likes of which leaves a deluxe 80s flavour. No need to evacuate last season’s favourites, they’ll just have to get with the times and mix it up. Introduced here was knitwear, and those solid colour beauties, for all their labor intensive textures, gave a serene respiration to his otherwise high octane tempo. New also for the season are accessories – beyond the jewellery that he’d crafted in earlier seasons – which also caught the eye. But as charming as his seasonal offering is, it reaches deeper than the lure of new wares.
“Historically that soul has been made up of free-spirited fashion designers with vision and creative drive who elevated luxury clothing to an art form and a sophisticated vehicle for personal expression. Today the fashion machine no longer values creativity and substance; a brief flash will do. Onto the next” he had written in a one-page manifesto he had distributed for his second wardrobe for Fall 2015. Every season confirms that he still stands by his word.
Materials and methods, both reaching for the highest quality, bring about an experimental tone that is highlighted by the Dutch veteran’s acceptance of imperfection: whether it’s the unprinted edges on leopard silk or the limited quantities that derive from the scarcity of found ressources. Where revisiting the reliefs of the past has become something of a trend, there is a reverence in RVDK’s approach that transcends his work. He’s not here to turn trash into triumph, or offer a cynical commentary on the industry. He’s picking up the thread of what couture meant. If some were foolish enough to throw that away, the Dutch veteran will turn it into gold.
Photography: Marijke Aerden