In this week’s episode of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast, Vogue Australia’s Sustainability Editor-at-Large Clare Press is in Amsterdam speaking to sustainable fashion pioneer and designer Ronald van der Kemp.
Ronald van der Kemp’s demi-couture fashion brand RVDK focuses on sustainability, and uses reclaimed, vintage and archival fabric. Fans of his designs include Lada Gaga, Kate Moss, Emma Watson & Lena Dunham, but celebrity endorsements aside – RVDK is driven by purpose. 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 in Paris (watch Rosanna Falconer’s video interview with Ronald following RVDK’s Paris show), Clare and Ronald discuss the balancing ethics and integrity with glamour and fun.
Listen to the episode in full here and see some of the many highlights of the conversation below:
On investing in clothes
“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.”
On his world mission
“This is one of the most important issues that I’m working with in my mission to make the fashion world, and particularly the luxury fashion world, a better place.”
On making his own rules
“For me there’s no rules. I make my own rules.”
On showing the big names how it should be done
“What we’re working on now is the next couture collection and for me it’s very important to be there alongside all the big names and to show them how it should be done. Working with existing materials that we find from everywhere, working with leftovers that other brands don’t find good enough but for me it’s really about making great, beautiful and exciting clothes and then the back story is how they’re made and with what they’re made.”
On the concept of ‘Wardrobe’
“For me, wardrobe is what women should build up over the years. You know yourself, you develop yourself, you get a certain style, and in a wardrobe you have many different pieces – you have casual pieces, you have evening pieces, you have going to work pieces, you have at home pieces, you have sexy pieces, there’s everything in there. I think that concept is great, because if you build a wardrobe you build something around your own personality and these are pieces that you care for and they become part of you and they become part of your life and I think you can combine them in many different ways. So this was my concept to build a collection.”
On ‘killing’ seasons
“I want to make clothes that don’t go out of style. They have to be timeless. Of course, there are things in your wardrobe that you won’t wear in a year maybe but then next year you think ‘Oh my god I have this thing in the back and it’s so great’, and then you combine it in a different way and it becomes your new favourite. So this is my way of thinking and it actually works, because in the beginning people said ‘well it’s never going to work’. But it actually does work, even with the press. We get requests for things from 2, 3, 4 seasons ago that people all of a sudden want to photograph or that stars want to wear on the red carpet, so it’s not like last season is over. Which I think is great, because it isn’t over – it’s just as good as this season. Why would it be bad? This is the concept that I don’t get.”
On shunning the fashion system’s wasteful ways
“Wherever I go, I always look and I find and collect, without thinking. So I come back and I have an office […] full of different fabrics and I start working piece by piece, without really thinking about what the outcome is going to be. I’m just making a piece like I build a wardrobe. I make a beautiful evening dress and then the next thing might be a pair of jeans, a tailored jacket, so they’re all different pieces.”
On working in high fashion
“It can be challenging but I’ve always worked in luxury fashion, high fashion, so I think in that place there is a place for this kind of thing. Because the other thing I started noticing in the past 10 years is that high fashion is no longer exclusive, because all the main brands are in all the main cities on all the main streets – in airports- you have the same jacket everywhere. They’re all beautifully made, in these high-tech factories where they have all the latest technology – but what I’m seeing with this jacket is I look at them and I think, yeah it’s beautiful but I don’t feel a soul.”
On Instagram filters & individuality
“What I see now, for example on instagram, you see all these women, all these girls, covering themselves up, hiding themselves behind filters – Instagram filters – but then, it gets even worse because then you have all these highly successful beauty brands who tell them if you use this and this and this you can change the shape of your face and you become who you want to be like your Instagram filter. And I feel like, what are you doing? You’re wiping away yourself. Express yourself, show who you are and underline that rather than try to cover it up.”
On his runway shows
“Of course I’ve heard people mention there’s not really a theme and it’s a little bit all over the place, but they all forgive me because why? Is there a rule that you have to follow a theme? For me there’s no rules, I follow my own rules.”
On sustainable couture
“For me, in the beginning my biggest thing was I want to show clothes that people find really exciting and i want to have a new concept of fashion, without talking about sustainability or everything that’s behind it. I wanted to be accepted […] by all the big names of fashion. I wanted them to see that I make great clothes, and high quality and couture. Now if I’d done it the other way and said I’m going to make sustainable couture and I’m going to do it this and that way, I think I wouldn’t have got to where I am now because you’re put in a certain corner and people don’t think of you as being glamorous and sexy and over the top, extravagant. Because this is what I do, I make very bold statement pieces and it’s not about me using sustainable yarns or something, it’s about working with what we have in this world and making something really beautiful or even changing people’s perceptions.”
“I think the old-fashioned way of doing couture is the sustainable way and this is what I’m looking at, this is what I’m doing really, but the new way of doing couture – I think there is a lot of waste, there is a lot of the research and everything that they do. When I buy fabric, I use it. I use everything.”
On the world ‘sustainable’
“The word sustainable has been over-used a little bit, I think and it has this connotation of […] a certain kind of woman and a certain kind of fashion and you don’t expect full glamour with that. And this for me is very important to show that that’s possible. And why not?”
On high fashion being as damaging as fast fashion
“There’s a lot of focus right now on fast fashion and how bad it is for the environment, and it is terrible – if you see documentary after documentary I sit there crying in front of the TV. But then I think it doesn’t stop there because high fashion is a big polluter as well and the fact that […] animals get killed to make a bag that later is going to be destroyed because they don’t sell it, and they want to pollute the atmosphere but they don’t want to pollute their brand – I think we have to question ourselves. I feel all the brands are so powerful right now, we all know it’s happening, but we all talk about fast fashion – but can we really look at whats happening in luxury fashion as well. Do we need all these shows a year? Do we need to fly all over the world to look at a 10 minute show with a whole new decor? Do people have to sit there for three days? Why is that? Can we just go back to the core of making really beautiful clothes with a soul, and minimise the waste, and think a little before we make things and do things. Bring back the value of haute couture and high fashion like it used to be and make it exclusive again.”
Learn more about the inspiring Ronald van der Kemp in his Life As I Know It interview and watch Rosanna Falconer’s report from his Paris couture week show.
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