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At Haute Couture, Paper Pants and a Denim Bride

Ronald van der Kemp and Sonia Rykiel present high fashion for the modern era

Leave it to Ronald van der Kemp to make paper haute. Yes, paper. On Sunday, the Dutch designer known for working with upcycled fabrics kicked off the Fall 2018 Haute Couture season in Paris with a collection that included two spectacularly crafted pieces made from nipped and tucked papier. The first was a pair of gilded trousers that, the designer explained, was so well-sculpted it could stand on its own. The second was a standout white puffer coat that would appeal to the Michelin Man’s deeply chic daughter (who I don’t believe exists, but wouldn’t it be fabulous if she did?). “I love the weirdness about it,” Van der Kemp said of his unlikely material post-show.

Also casual? Van der Kemp’s collaboration with Dutch sneaker brand Filling Pieces on a series of chunky, metallic kicks that echoed the collection’s Space Age influences. “We did something with their leftover stock. Couture is usually such a holy thing and I thought it was great to give it a casual feeling.”

Elsewhere, there was everything you’d want to see from a couture collection—’80s-tinged gowns with outsized sleeves, a dramatic train that billowed behind the model like a parachute, feminine, tailored jackets, Anna Cleveland performing her runway theatrics in a metallic ball skirt…you get the idea. And, true to form, van der Kemp fashioned it all from what he calls “leftovers.” For instance, one toile-print gown (paired with an extra-tall felt bowler hat) was made from a bolt of fabric the designer found at a vintage interiors store in New York. It looked a bit like something used for curtains, in the best way possible.

 

“This is what I love to do,” said van der Kemp. “You make clothes that people care for and have a relationship with and that they never throw away. I think the whole mentality needs to change in fashion. We cannot keep producing all these clothes that nobody wants. I would say, for me, it’s not even about selling clothes,” he continued. “It’s about changing the mentality. It’s all going in the wrong direction. I just want to show that you can do it like this. It’s fun, it’s great, you can be creative. Leftovers don’t have to be horrible. They can be beautiful and [what I do] is fully sustainable.” At the end of the show, the models swarmed around van der Kemp as if he were a rock star—and you know what? He kind of is.

Just an hour later, Sonia Rykiel celebrated the brand’s 50th anniversary with a special Atelier show staged beneath the hot, hot sun at a garden in Saint Germain’s École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. While the maison was invited as a special guest of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, this wasn’t a couture collection, per se—that’s not in the spirit of the young, playful, approachable French brand. Rather, it was an elevated, hand-worked collection (with pieces that will be made to order) that both revisited house signatures and looked ahead. “I did look at the archives with my team to identify Rykiel’s iconic piece, but we did quickly close those amazing vintage [doors] to imagine a collection designed for the future, talking to the actual woman,” de Libran told Fashion Unfiltered.

Naturally, there were plenty of knits (like a seriously oversized “I <3 Sonia” sweater), ostrich feathers (including on a hat that mimicked Rykiel’s own red hair), and relaxed plays on elegance (via louche suiting, breezy, sheer gowns, and romantic, sweeping, floor-length robes). The finale look—a feather-trimmed bridal veil, bustier, and full train paired with jeans—epitomized the house’s Left Bank spirit. “We found in the archives that Madame Rykiel did wedding dresses to end a few of her shows,” de Libran said. “I found it interesting to do this in the blink-of-an-eye in 2018.”

In this day and age, when (like it or not) most people are running around in streetwear, haute couture has a tendency to feel stiff and out of touch. But from the paper, sneakers, and unadulterated joy at RVDK to the youthful exuberance and confident sensuality at Sonia Rykiel, the Fall 2018 Haute Couture shows are off to a smashing—and refreshingly modern—start.

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