Ronald van der Kemp Fall 2021 Couture Collection

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When Ronald van der Kemp introduced his upcycled couture concept in the mid-2010s he was an outlier. Of course, sustainability has become one of fashion’s most urgent narratives in the years since. The Dutch designer deserves some of the credit; made from existing resources, his persuasively glamorous clothes have always been matched by his frank talk about the perils of overconsumption.

So the alarm he expressed on a Zoom call yesterday about how quickly fashion is returning to normal was cause for concern. “I already see the more, more, more feeling coming back in the amount of clothes that are coming out again,” he said. It’s only natural to crave excess after pandemic-time privations both social and material, but, he went on, “if you do something, I think, it needs to make sense and there needs to be a purpose for it. I still think we need to make beautiful things, but it needs to be more edited, more thought-through, and it needs to be with more substance.”

That sounds like a challenge to the big names on this week’s couture schedule, but it’s one he holds himself to, as well. Working with interns from Amsterdam’s Jean School, van der Kemp made a number of pieces from used denim, including a terrific little jacket woven from thin strips of the stuff and embroidered in denim flowers and a “ban faux fur” chubby in denim as shredded and fringey as synthetic fur, but not half as bad for the environment. He also re-partnered with i-did, a Dutch company making new materials from felted textile trash, and two other Amsterdam sustainability pioneers on a showpiece coat and dress in white chain link, with matching recycled felt textile trash handbags and jewelry. The plan is to offer the accessories at wholesale.

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Everything else was made with materials he had to hand. Van der Kemp doesn’t see his process as limiting; on the contrary, because of the tiny quantities he’s working with, his pieces are true one-offs, and rarer than the output of more traditional couture houses. As seriously as he takes his mission, he also leaves room for humor. Instead of launching a perfume—a typical fashion move—he’s created a limited edition CBD paste, aka designer drug, aka Mind Vaccine. That’s also the name of the movie he made this season. “I’m ready for some hedonism, but a responsible hedonism,” he explained. “The CBD paste has a sort of naughty connotation, but it actually sort of helps you to stay calm and be more mindful.” Which makes Van der Kemp’s rallying cry not ‘buy better, buy less,’ but ‘buy higher, buy less.’ It’s a catchy concept.

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