The designer Simone Rocha fights the presumptions of fashion

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In the darkness of the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great in London, Simone Rocha’s Spring-Summer 2022 collection sparkled. Inspired by the Dublin-born designer’s experience of having her second child, there were frothy white dresses – their voluminous shapes reminiscent of those worn for communion – trimmed with ivory satin ribbons, which trailed lightly over the old stone floor. There were creamy tulle slip dresses iced out with delicate bead configurations and fluffy pointelle cardigans with bows. And a recurring and striking motif? Nursing bras, lined with precious stones and jewels, their utilitarian purpose makes them precious and naughty at the same time.

Simone Roche. Hairstyle by Simon Khan. Makeup by Lucy Bu.

Something in the collection was typically Rocha. Its extravagant beauty, yes, its slight quirkiness, its dark humor, but also the sense of something even darker, just below the surface – something uniquely tied to the female experience. It was created at a time when the designer was incredibly “tired and distressed,” she tells me from her studio. Femininity, for her, is a multi-layered concept. There’s the superficial and the stereotypical – “the connotations of what people think is feminine and girly,” she explains – and then there’s what’s underneath, what women have been historically conditioned to keep hidden. “The blood, the trauma, the guts, the practicality.” It’s the designer’s specialty, and she’s not afraid to dig deep.

Five models posing in Spring/Summer 2022 by Simone Rocha.
Models (left to right): Rea, Graham, Hugo Hamlet, Katie Mullaney and Athieng. Hairstyle by Claire Grech. Makeup by Machiko Yano. Cast by Alejandra Perez. Produced by Luke Marchan.

Presenting yourself as resolutely feminine in today’s world is a rebellious act in itself. Some of her clients, says Rocha, who founded her brand in 2010, tell her that stepping into her pieces is like putting on armor, making them feel strong. (Incidentally, the designer’s interest in Victorian fashion stems in part from a fascination with how, albeit restrictively, she celebrated the female form while women were largely speechless.) “These are not not clothes that want to apologize,” she says. And indeed, Simone Rocha’s signatures – including airy dresses with exaggerated volumes, roomy blouses and jackets with exaggerated puffed sleeves and beaded accessories – become almost a uniform, a powerful statement of feminine presence. The designer’s confidence and consistency in her aesthetic no doubt owe something to the fact that she grew up around fashion; As the daughter of Hong Kong-born, Dublin-based designer John Rocha, she attended her first show at just three months old.

Rocha compares his design process to writing “chapters of the same story”. In fact, an exciting aspect of his work is how he weaves threads from all sorts of unexpected places into fascinating narratives, with influences as diverse as Anne Boleyn and Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. One of the designer’s most consistent influences, however, is her Irish heritage. This can be seen in the nods to Catholicism that permeate so many of its collections and in its reverence for manual labor; Rocha’s trademark embellishments are worked on early in the design process, “almost like mini-sculptures”. Often this is underscored more overtly: its Autumn-Winter 2022 collection took Irish legend Children of Lir as its starting point, with stately high-necked overcoats and roomy biker jackets spreading out in ruffled star-shaped shapes. wings.

A collage of images from a collection by fashion designer Simone Rocha.
Top right: Model Lavinia. Simone Rocha Spring/Summer 2022 collection.

The designer’s latest project, aside from, of course, raising two young girls and preparing for her next collection, is “girls girls girls”, a major group exhibition she curated at Lismore Castle Arts in Ireland. Through October 30, the exhibition interrogates the female gaze through the work of multi-generational artists and, unsurprisingly, has a suitably Rocha-esque weirdness, with pieces including a painting of conjoined twins by artist Cassi Namoda and the phallic bronze of Louise Bourgeois Janus in leather jacket. The project seems to suit Rocha well given that if she hadn’t become a designer, she might have become an artist – and Bourgeois was one of her idols. (Rocha wrote his university thesis on her and has since collaborated with the Easton de Bourgeois Foundation.) As for what the designer most admires about her? “She was an incredibly strong artist, but her strength came from the fragility and distress of femininity, and then from her exposure.”

The talented Rocha could just as well describe herself.

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