Fashion

Ronald van der Kemp - New Ethics in Luxury Fashion

"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.” - Ronald van der Kemp
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RVDK | Photo: Marijke Aerden

In the heart of the super-power city of Amsterdam, where you can buy almost every high-end international luxury brand you know, there is a wonderful haute couture atelier established by the fashion designer obsessed by unique; the designer on the mission who is celebrating creativity and craftsmanship, dedicated to making timeless peaces, and long forgotten clothes with a soul. And all that on the completely new way.

Ronald van der Kemp worked for over 25 years as a designer and creative director for high-end international luxury brands such as Bill Blass, Celine/Michael Kors, Guy Laroche and Barneys before launching a label under his own name. Not feeling at ease, as he says, by working for global brands, Van Der Kemp decided to follow his own intuition.

Being a person always attracted to the rebellious creative spirits, growing up in the late 80ties and in the 90ties, loving the work of Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Thierry Mugler, and Yves Saint Laurent, I have followed my own path deciding to meet the first fashion designer who is successfully, in the 21st century, building his brand his own way.

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RVDK | Wardrobe 8

It was a bright sunny Friday afternoon when I escaped from the busy streets and arrived at the heart of Amsterdam - at the canal district called De 9 Straatjes (The Nine Streets). Just two minutes walk from the Royal Palace at the Dam Square, De 9 Straatjes is home to a great number of vintage stores, alternative fashion, and specialized theme stores. The most of the picturesque buildings date from the beginning of the 17th century and are little, monumental shopping houses. After 400 years crafts, trades and culture are still dominant. Right there, at Herengracht 342, I opened the door of the monumental villa, and my heart was filled with hope. Walking through the high ceiling corridor, followed by the echos of my footsteps, I climbed the stairs and got to the second floor. The designer himself opened the door and welcomed me in. I have finally entered the world of Ronald van der Kemp.

The atelier was working hard on the new collection, but Ronald found the time to tell his story to L’Officiel Arabia. We have sat at his working table and started talking.

Ronald van der Kemp Photo: Marijke Aerden

The first question that has popped up was what triggered this whole idea of building RVDK brand. 

“When I started this, I wasn’t really planning to build my own brand, or start my own company. I was just doing a project for myself which I felt was a right moment to do. I have worked for 25 years in a luxury fashion world, and more, and more, I have been starting to realize that there are so many clothes, and too much waste.

And even at the luxury level, there was so much perfectly beautiful clothes that was being destroyed if not sold. I also started seeing that there was not much attention anymore for the luxury clothes. As a designer for a big brands, and I was one of them, you have to make so many collections, and you simply have not enough time to concentrate on making something really beautiful.” - explains Van Der Kemp and continues: “One day I was walking around in New York, and I looked at all the stores, all the collections that everyone has done, and I simply could not find anything that could get to me. It was all perfectly nicely done, nice fabrics, with the attention to detail, but I kept asking myself ‘why doesn’t any of it trigger me?’." So he went to the vintage stores, where he found old couture pieces from the 70ties and 80ties: old YSL, Blass, Beene. "I’ve looked through those pieces realizing that these are kind of clothes that really mattered, and that these are kind of clothes I would love to make.” 

To feel the hand of the clothes, to feel when something was a little wrong, not industrialized sameness of now - that was the inspiration for his work.

“I have decided not go by the formula everybody went by: with the theme, color cards, big fashion shows productions, where after you see the third silhouette you already know what is coming next, and so on. I wanted to go back when the fashion was done with the passion.”

Backstage at RVDK Photo: Marijke Aerden

Throughout the years Van Der Kemp have collected beautiful fabrics, pieces of exotic leather, and whatever he found being nice, not having any idea at the time that he would in the future make something out of it. This was his starting point. He has stopped his work for everyone, thinking he is gonna do this for himself as a sort of a statement. That’s how his mission begun. “I started working with what I already had.” - says Van Der Kemp.

Having had enormous experience and knowledge by working in the luxury fashion, gave Van Der Kemp confidence to go his own way. As he believes, there is so much waste in the world, and so little attention to true creativity. Therefore he is proposing fresh and absolutely modern idea of the new ethics in the luxury fashion. 

Knowing that the fashion is one of the world’s biggest polluting industry, which has a huge impact on a global climate change, proposing sustainable approach in the luxury fashion is a revolutionary, and yet, lonely road for an independent fashion designer to take. At the same time it is the right moment to do it, and truly inspiring for all of us aware of the issue, and, even more important, for the future generations. 

“Sustainability is in everything: in clothes you buy, in trying to reduce the waste in the fashion industry, in respecting yourself, making yourself richer as a person, and respecting the world around you.”
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RVDK | Wardrobe 9
Kate Moss wearing RVDK Photo: Inez & Vinoodh

RVDK was established in 2014. Since the first show in January 2015 when he launched RVDK with Wardrobe 1 in his college friends Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s Paris apartment, there has always been a highly original story to tell about the way he makes his clothes. And let’s not forget that Kate Moss, whose Instagram moment in RVDK's mashup of a black leather jacket and a coyote fur photographed by Inez & Vinoodh, was a breakthrough of sorts for Van Der Kemp.

 

RVDK collections are called ‘wardrobes’. Each wardrobe consists of limited-edition statement pieces, that are season-less and timeless clothes as an expression of a women’s personality underlining her strength and character. Van Der Kemp prefers ‘wardrobes’ to seasons. There is no seasonal principle. He makes clothes, and they all come together at one point. 

Looking for the quality, each style is ethically made with high-end existing materials, and carefully crafted by hand, with the attention to detail, by small ateliers and highly skilled artisans, some of who used to make the costumes for the theatre. And it is all made in Holland.

“I want people to think about what they are buying, and to feel attached to the clothes. You should buy the good styles that fit your personality, and not wear it only once and throw it away.”

RVDK sustainable demi-couture wardrobe is presented twice a year during Paris couture week. RVDK presents the collections in an intimate setting to a select group of editors and clients as an invited guest on the official Paris couture schedule. 

And the response is gigantic!

Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser of Qatar was exclusively dressed by RVDK. Celebrities like Céline Dion (particularly being a fan herself), Emma Watson, Juliette Binosche, Kate Hudson, Naomi Campbell, Karlie Kloss, Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Morena Baccarin, Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and many, many more are the list of RVDK clients.

Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser of Qatar wearing exclusive RVDK

Ronald van der Kemp was born in 1964. He enrolled at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy of Art and Design in Amsterdam where he bonded with Inez and Vinoodh over a shared love of Helmut Newton’s photos in Vogue Paris. His sensitivity was shaped by beauty of Yves Saint Laurent’s couture, the drama of Claude Montana’s shows, the peak moments of Mugler, Chantal Thomass…

“Women should go back to respecting themselves, and not being obsessed with the instagram filters. You should find your personality, express yourself, and build your wardrobe around your own personality. You should really be conscious what you buy.”

This idea is also communicated through RVDK fashion shows. The designer does not choose one type of the model, but all the different girls, different personalities, different nationalities, backgrounds, different walks. Some of them are not even professional models, but girls coming from a different professions. There is no big show productions where it is all about the decor, and not the clothes anymore.

“It’s a positive dream RVDK is proposing. Not only that I am creating exclusive clothes, I also want to inspire women how to make their own wardrobe; how to think differently; to be rebellious, believe in themselves, find their own unique beauty, dare to be different, be dressed beautiful in a clothes that makes you feel powerful; to respect yourself and the world around you.”

RVDK Boots | Photo: Marijke Aerden

While all the clothes is made in Holland, shoes are made in Italy, with the same concept of using luxury skins from the stock of the big producers. 95% of RVDK is made of existing materials.

 

In addition to the ‘wardrobes’, RVDK is collaborating with other brands on their overproduction. “All the brands have problems with their overproduced pieces. Ideally I would work with all of the big brands, like Louis Vuitton or Hermès, for example. Together we can make something beautiful out of it. Rather than throwing it away, burning it, let’s do something with it!” 

RVDK & FILLING PIECES

RVDK first started collaborating with the Dutch streetwear brand FILLING PIECES, and it was exciting for both parties. “It was a great combination. Combining streetwear and couture pieces can be very exciting. And I would love to do more of these collaborations.”

Working with passionate artisans, tailors, seamstresses and embroiderers making clothes with a soul, and all made with love, mostly by hand; the kind of clothes that have the timelessness and craftsmanship of vintage couture pieces, RVDK makes small limited editions, selling preferably at the specialized stores, and to the private couture clients.

“I love doing couture pieces, and I love working directly with the client,’’ Van Der Kemp told me.

“I love dressing ageless strong personalities that expect exclusivity, originality and high quality. We usually offer styles from our wardrobes collections, but it can also be bespoke, designed and hand made anything the client might need for special occasion. It is absolutely unique, done on a very high level. We can also together create a wardrobe for the private client. Women who we already built the relationship with love it! They get something completely different from a big brands, and it’s very personal for them, and we are very discrete with that.”

Staying in his own world, RVDK is on a mission to show the world that ethical fashion can be glamorous and exciting, injecting high fashion with a feeling of nostalgia and a longing for the heydays of haute couture. 

“I hand-sign everything, and since it is all limited editions, I write down everything, and we know exactly how many of the same styles are there in the world. Sometimes it is only 3, or 10, 15. When it is a couture, there is only one. That way it stays exclusive.”

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Gigi Hadid and Céline Dion wearing RVDK (Céline Dion photographed by Marijke Aerden)

Limited editions, timeless and season-less designs, positive and ethical high fashion alternative, mix of high quality existing materials, high-end stock and vintage couture fabrics, tailored, crafted clothes combined with stand-alone statement pieces, handmade unique pieces, with that perfect lived in imperfection - all that makes the clothes come alive! What more could you wish for?

Click here to see the latest RVDK Wardrobe 10

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