Dutch brands are ripping up the rule book when it comes to classic haute couture – and captivating a youthful new audience, as Lucinda Turner discovers
Once the preserve of the upper classes and women whose closets bulged with vintage Chanel suits, couture is rapidly finding a new audience. Millennials are fast becoming not only the biggest buyers of luxury goods, but also prime purchasers of couture, so labels are having to adapt to gain a piece of the pie.
Paris, the undisputed home of couture, is still home to the majority of houses – however, take a look at the schedules for the city’s biannual Haute Couture Fashion Week, and three of the prestigious brands showing are Dutch. While Holland has long been known for its avant-garde fashion scene, these three houses have broken into one of the most exclusive fashion circles in the world – and are addressing the question of how to bring couture to that key Millennial market.
One of the earliest pioneers of Dutch couture is Viktor & Rolf. Founded in 1993 by art school friends Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, the brand has been reinventing itself and pushing boundaries for almost 30 years. After producing strictly haute couture collections until 2000, Horsting and Snoeren then decided to explore the ready-to-wear market for a further decade, before returning to couture in 2014.
By then, the Viktor & Rolf business had come a long way from its roots. In 2005, the brand’s first fragrance, Flowerbomb, now available in various incarnations, transformed Viktor & Rolf from an unattainable couture brand into a household name. Subsequent years saw the launch of the masculine Spicebomb and another female fragrance, BonBon. It seems that such diversification and awareness are key for attracting the modern couture customer. Alongside the fragrances, 2014 marked the first Viktor & Rolf jewellery collaboration with Atelier Swarovski, 2018 saw an exhibition at the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam celebrating 25 years of the brand and in 2016 Viktor & Rolf Mariage brought the label to a new audience of brides-to-be.
The Mariage line takes the shapes and styles of the brand’s haute couture and translates them into bridal gowns; as a wedding dress is generally the most expensive dress a woman will purchase in her life, the link to couture is clear. The Mariage line has proved a huge success, so much so that for 2019, Justin Alexander, the Rotterdam-based bridalwear and occasionwear company with which Mariage is co-produced, has collaborated with Viktor & Rolf on a second line, Soir – elegant eveningwear similarly inspired by the couture designs. Starting prices of around €3,000 are entry level by Viktor & Rolf standards. The dresses are colourful, embellished and, above all, modern, clearly aimed at a youthful, Millennial customer looking for a gateway into the Viktor & Rolf world.
Dutch couturier Iris van Herpen addresses awareness by collaborating on luxury projects whose links to fashion are subtle. In 2014 the designer, who is known for her daring, sculptural creations, teamed up with Dom Pérignon on Metamorphosis, a project launched at New York Fashion Week. Customers were invited to purchase specially designed bottles of champagne alongside limited-edition works of art by van Herpen. The event and collaboration turned each piece into a collector’s item, much like a one-off piece of couture.
While champagne and couture may go hand in hand, van Herpen’s latest partnership is slightly further removed. In 2018, she worked with Australian beauty brand Aesop on the Atlas of Attraction project.
The Dutch couturier designed intricately sculptural packaging, reminiscent of her couture pieces, for four limited-edition beauty kits, as well as window installations for Aesop stores. The eye-catching designs allow the Aesop customer a piece of the Iris van Herpen aesthetic; Aesop is the go-to luxury skincare brand of the Instagram generation, and the joint project thus introduces Millennials to a couture brand they may not previously have known.
Ronald van der Kemp is another Dutch master of the art of collaboration. For spring/summer 2019 van der Kemp, whose demi-couture brand counts Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid as fans, has collaborated with Amsterdam-based trainer brand Filling Pieces.
The contemporary footwear company, which boasts almost half a million Instagram followers, bridges the gap between high fashion and streetwear, a market in which the modern couture customer is well versed, and one that van der Kemp is keen to be part of.
Founded in 2014, the RVDK brand focuses on sustainability – a key issue for Millennials. ‘We are paving the way forward for couture with our ethical approach. I believe this generation will look for responsible and exciting alternatives,’ says van der Kemp. ‘Couture should be about beautiful, exhilarating, well-made clothes, not about big show productions. I hope that Millennials will recognise this!’ Created from existing high-end materials and leftover fabrics, RVDK garments are bright, voluminous, and also wearable. A couture house for the new generation, perhaps?
After 25 years working with international brands such as Michael Kors and Celine, van der Kemp decided to return to his native country to begin his eponymous line. ‘Holland for me is a good place to concentrate on my own work without being distracted by the demands and pressure of the international fashion world,’ he says.
Maybe that’s the secret. Holland allows room for creativity to flourish and for the boundaries of traditional couture to be pushed. Through innovative collaborations, new working practices, and simply expanding their offerings in exciting different directions, it seems that Dutch houses are paving the way for a new era of haute couture.