While many designers seemed to be in a stupor during the coronavirus lockdown, Ronald van der Kemp’s creativity — and his convictions about sustainability and inclusivity — seemed to be at full boil.
On April 28, at five minutes before midnight, he had 29 models, each in a couture dress with matching face mask, emerge on the safely spaced balconies of a deserted luxury hotel in central Amsterdam. They hoisted white flags, not to surrender to the disease, but to the signals it unleashed.
“We put globalization on hold, bringing back a deep appreciation for our local heroes, frontline workers, neighbors,” the Dutch designer’s manifesto declared. “We see that the skies are clearer, nature blooms and even wild animals come out. The constraints of these times fuel our imagination, forcing us to reimagine the future, making us all aware of our destructive relationship with the planet.”
Van der Kemp concluded it is “time to reconsider our industry and how it is participating to a world that is facing a tremendous crisis.”
He continues the thought with his fall couture collection, incorporating some old designs, styled in different ways, “to show people you don’t always need new things to keep it interesting.”
Without a mega-brand budget, he delivered more than 11 minutes of video footage spanning eight films, each with a distinct mood and look, from hyper-stylized and impressionistic to raw and unvarnished.
The Eighties was the designer’s formative decade — the heydays of Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, Emmanuel Ungaro and Valentino — and their influence can be seen in the puff sleeves, polka dots and the showy tailoring in bright red. “Their clothes were made with so much love and attention; they’re better than anything. They stand the test of time,” he enthused during a Zoom chat.
To be sure, van der Kemp’s clothes — whether an upcycled couture sweatshirt or an architectural evening gown — play at considerably higher volume, with lots of metallic shine, dangling chains and spray-painted neon. His patchwork gowns and stiff kimono constructions are about as demonstrative as couture gets, winking to John Galliano’s zaniest Dior days.
The collection seemed messier than usual, but so is the world.