Paris Couture: Ronald van der Kemp on Why You Cannot Have Clothes for the Price of a Cappuccino

Stop in your tracks, heart flipping, intriguing fashion. That was my first experience of a Ronald Van Der Kemp design. And that, was just seeing it online at NET-A-PORTER. Once it arrived home: the rustle of taffeta, the crunch of tulle, even the sounds as it emerged from its packaging were exciting. This is just the emotional reaction to clothes that the Dutch designer wishes to achieve. After many years as a creative director and consultant for brands from Bill Blass to Guy Laroche, he had become disenchanted by the industry. A shopping trip in New York was his moment of epiphany: he was shocked by the disparity between the department stores and the vintage shops stocking last-a-lifetime couture YSL and Ungaro, “this was the first time that day that my heart started beating.”

From this turning point he launched his demi-couture line in 2014 with its new ethics in luxury fashion message, coining the term “ready-to-care”. He is a man with a mission and his manifesto is his effort to find another way from the unsustainable treadmill of ready-to-wear fashion. His interview with Dolly Jones elaborates further around this.

An invitation for his spring / summer 2019 show at Paris Fashion Week arrived in my inbox, proclaiming ‘Save The Date, and The Planet’. I was fascinated to talk to him about his revolutionary journey and to see his clothes, with all their soul, first hand. This video, produced especially for Eco-Age, captures both Ronald’s charm and passion for his cause. He senses urgency for the industry to change. Too much emphasis has been placed in the news on the unsustainable practices of high street brands but the high fashion brands, for all their glamour, are not immune. I’ll let him explain first hand. Understandably a little less vocal in their thoughts but nodding in the right places. And opposite? The queen of couture week herself, Céline Dion, dressed in a grey power suit that Ronald told me he had personally tailored in her suite the night before the show, and that subsequently caused an internet sensation.

41 looks of unique, exhilarating, brilliant design followed. Ronald does not believe in a seasonal narrative (his clothes are timeless, after all) so seeking one aesthetic theme is not possible. Instead, each look tells its own tale: vintage stock fabrics from a closing French couture mill resulted in a diaphanous choker gown and a silk mousseline gown with exquisite gathers at the neckline and a cinched waist. My new skirt crush was found at look 34: panels of colourful lamé fabric donated by a stock re-seller, paired ingeniously with a meticulously-cut top in bleached denim left over from a previous collection. I love the way each look is named. This skirt is called “Dansons!” – an imperative demand to dance to all who wear her! Other heart-stoppers?

There was a collective intake of breath over look 14 of scarlet duchess silk belted with chains at the waist. A modern take on the gala gowns so many of us associate with couture. Then who could not fall for the ‘Candy Cane Gown’? Brightest pink duchess satin purchased from the same couture fabric re-seller and lined in contrast silk taffeta.

As I left I bumped into German blogger Nina Suess, dressed in an RVDK floor-sweeping tangerine chiffon dress, which she had styled for the weather with a camel trench coat. Asking why she loved his designs, she cited their cut, the confidence she feels in them and the drape of the fabric. Not once their ethical credentials. And that’s surely the point here. Nina, just like me when my heart first flipped over his skirt, is drawn emotionally to the joy, elegance and glamour of Ronald’s designs. The fact that their fabrics are upcycled and crafted by a tight-knit team of artisans, well, that is a bonus that needs to become the industry-wide norm. The industry must catch up and urgently follow suit. Particularly if it’s a grey power suit as fabulous as Celine’s.

Want to know more about Ronald Van Der Kemp? Read his Bringing Business To Life interview about starting a sustainable fashion business.  

See Rosanna Falconer‘s sustainable London Fashion Week diary.