Whoever said that appearing sublime on a red carpet and making everyone swoon was incompatible with saving the planet? Certainly not Ronald van der Kemp, the Dutch designer who, since launching his label in 2014, has been dressing the Cardi Bs and Gigi Hadids of this world in clothes that are both magnificent and sustainable. Putting forward a new set of ethics for the luxury sector, van der Kemp prides himself on having created the first couture label that respects sustainable development. “The cadence of fashion has greatly increased these past few years, as we all know,” he says. “But the obligation to create ever more collections leads to overproduction, which means that, on the one had, the idea of true, exclusive luxury is lost, and on the other that you need to ask yourself what happens to all the unsold pieces.”
To resist the pressure to constantly create more, the designer first decided to give up ready-to-wear so as to concentrate on demi-couture and couture. His client? A woman who can’t afford haute couture but who will not compromise on the beauty and exclusivity of what she wears. “I make very high-quality limited editions and unique pieces that are entirely handmade in small workshops in the Netherlands.” Keeping in mind his eternal models, the great couturiers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino Garavani, and the chic glamour of Emanuel Ungaro and Bill Blass, van der Kemp organizes spectacular runway shows on the fringe of the haute couture calendar in Paris, twice a year. He titles his collections with a sober “Wardrobe” followed by a number, underlining his desire to create timeless wardrobes rather than the fads of a season.
Without restricting themselves to one territory or imaginary, sheaths, draped column dresses, kimono dresses, pencil skirts, suits, masculine-inspired Prince of Wales trousers and even jeans revisit all the strong looks of fashion history, seeking to combine impeccable tailoring with irreproachable quality. The reason for this wide diversity is simple: in order not to pollute the planet further through overproduction, van der Kemp has recourse to recycling. “I source my materials all over the place. I contact firms to acquire their stocks of unused fabric, I also recover vintage couture fabric and industrial waste. So I work with brands from every horizon, not just fashion labels. And there are so many great materials already existing that I very rarely feel the need to produce my own fabrics. If I do, however, I always make sure it’s done ecologically.”
Good things are never accomplished without love, and van der Kemp’s preoccupation with the planet’s future is accompanied, as is the case with most designers concerned with sustainability, by a desire for ethical production methods that also respect the people involved. The craftsmen, tailors, seamstresses and embroiderers who work with him share his desire to equate beauty with ethics and to make clothes that have a soul. To take things even further, van der Kemp often employs political refugees, and he’s also worked with weaving communities in India (for a tweed made from offcuts) and a cooperative in Mali. All of which is a great way to prove that achieving a killer look needn’t involve hurting anyone.