Ronald van der Kemp hasn’t shown a physical collection in Paris since January 2020. In that time, fashion has been examining its conscience, questioning its production cycles, fashion show formats, and avaricious impulses more assiduously than ever—though perhaps you wouldn’t know it, to look at this haute couture week, where “business as usual” has been the unspoken mantra, with press and clients back in town and dressed to the nines.
The Dutch designer has long been vocal about the need to slow down and take stock (quite literally—he has been upcycling since 2014). He was back in Paris, he said, speaking backstage before the show, to drive home that message: “Fashion is so much about ‘more, more, more’… but new stuff is a problem and we need to wake up and realize that.” Part of his mission is to recontextualize sustainability. “Couture in the old days set an example for the world, and I want to show that we don’t have to always make a new trench coat every season and change the button here and there,” he said. “If you present clothes in a different context, they become new again.”
True to his word, each look in this fall collection was constructed from deadstock fabrics, archive scraps, and even old looks from past collections, reworked for a new customer. Look seven was the trickiest to execute. The designer had unearthed a trove of 1970s silk mousselines from a now-defunct company, shredded them, and used them to adorn an organza mini dress with a spiralling skirt. Hanging nearby was a diaphanous turquoise and coral concoction made from the remnants of a dress once worn by Naomi Campbell. On the next hanger was a pair of floor-sweeping flared jeans, constructed from a madcap patchwork of brocade, goat hair, and jacquards on a denim base, to be paired with a bra top made from a discarded American flag.
If the clothes adhered to an outlandish theme—well, that was on-message too. “For me, it’s about eccentricity. If people know who they are, they become a more sustainable person, because they build a wardrobe around their personality,” he said. In other words: stop falling in love with new-season looks, and embrace the chaos of an upcycled one-off.