Know the feeling of stepping into an event, only to realize that another guest is wearing the exact same thing? As far as Ronald van der Kemp is concerned, this is what the industry has become in the face of globalization and quickening cycles. "Stuck between Instagram and H&M, high fashion loses its soul. The only way to fix the current broken model is to leave the fashion treadmill altogether," he prefaced the one page statement which he presented guests of his second by-appointment-only Parisian presentation and in which he reflects on the garments as props of a celebrity-by-existence culture. The Dutch designer is no bright-eyed newcomer, commenting from the outside. Over the course of the past quarter of a century, van der Kemp has added names such as Bill Blass, Guy Laroche, Céline, and Wolford to a resume that reads like a walk through every section of a luxurious wardrobe, which is what he offers in a roundabout way in his new label RVDK.
"At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I long for the days when luxury fashion was still a deeply intimate affair. Women would build up wardrobes that accentuated their personal style, carefully selecting designers they liked. They happily saved up for that perfect dress or jacket, knowing it was crafted with love and would last a lifetime. [...] The current model also threatens the very soul of luxury fashion. 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 wrote further on. Increasingly, in the age of instant access luxury, there is something inordinately thrilling to limited quantities, unconventional sourcing, and short cycle retail circuits.
And the clothes are achingly cool. So much so that Kate Moss wore one of his jackets. You can see it on the Instagram of life-long friends Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Yet this is not a collection about how things were, although the craft is painstakingly artisanal: lashings of paint upstage any printing process; hand-embroidery sees a peacock curling along the shoulder blade of a coat; a hand-woven vest hid a tiny "Vogue" logo on a ribbon, a reminder that this had once been a promotional t-shirt. It takes a connoisseur, not of fashion itself, but of fabrics, to recognize the utmost quality of the materials involved in each striking creation that the Amsterdam-based designer throws together effortlessly.
Slightly flared trousers spliced from just-so stone washed denim and an age-improved American flag. The term upcycling doesn't do justice to the short shoulder-defining dress made of powder pink python, or the textural play of matte crocodile skins, mingling with lace for a pencil skirt – all coming from a luxury bag manufacturer's refuse pile. Nor would anyone guess that the gauzy blue-green silk of a ruffled blouse came from a flea-market find or that the gorgeous pleated skirt spent decades folded away in a Dutch couturier's fabric stash, waiting to be rediscovered when his heirs gave the lot to van der Kemp. In his hands, by-products of the fashion lifecycle come to life as the gorgeous materials they still are. By virtue of their scarcity, his collection comes across as a proposal, rather than a package deal.
Good things come to those who wait, and RVDK is definitely something worth holding out for.