simone rocha: bloom, grow, blossom
Inspired by pregnancy, a trip to Kyoto, and the erotic photographs of Nobuyoshi Araki, Simone Rocha’s spring/summer 16 collection was her most captivating yet.
Ina wears dress, pants, and belts Simone Rocha. Beret House of Harlot.
"I was in Kyoto feeling really sick. I didn't know I was pregnant, so I was feeling really out there," Simone Rocha says, two weeks after giving birth to her baby daughter Valentine Ming. It was cherry blossom season, and the Sakura trees had erupted in powder pink blooms all around the city, dusting the parks and pavements with marshmallow petals. It was a surreal scene. "I was seeing everything so intensely, it was really trippy," Simone continues. "I started looking at things in a different way - the kimonos, the geishas, the tea houses, the antique fabrics…" This heightened sensory awareness manifested itself in Simone's spring/summer 16 collection; a breathtakingly, sensuous explosion of powder puff dresses in tulle and crepe, and abstract bamboo forest prints majestically set off by black rope detailing that criss-crossed almost every look. These cross-body straps were inspired by the work of Nobuyoshi Araki, the Japanese photographer best known for his fascination with Kinbaku-bi, the art of erotic bondage. "We were skulking around Tokyo desperately trying to find his whisky bar," Simone says, "but we didn't spot it, which was probably for the best because I would have been paralysed with fear for the next seven months!" It's not the first time the Japanese photographer has inspired Simone's work, but it is perhaps the most poignant. The juxtaposition of the hard, black macramé straps against the flimsy pink tulle restricted the silhouette to create an intoxicating punk-like energy.
Born in Dublin, to the Hong Kong born fashion designer John Rocha and his Irish wife Odette, Simone was immersed in fashion from day dot. "I was born in September, so I went to my first show at only a few weeks old," she says. Her childhood was spent in Rocha's studio, at first just "mooching about," and then by the age of 16 properly assisting. "I didn't really decide to work in fashion as such," she says, "it just happened. I grew up in my dad's studio, hanging out, working, always going to the shows…" On finishing school, she enrolled on the Fashion BA at Dublin's The National College of Art, graduating in 2008 and moving to London to study for her MA at Central Saint Martins under the late Louise Wilson MBE. On graduating, Simone showed two seasons with Lulu Kennedy at Fashion East before striking out on her own for spring/summer 12.
Today Simone Rocha is one of London's brightest stars, winning the British Fashion Award for Emerging Talent in 2013, and the New Establishment Award the year after. Her success is not only down to her tremendous talent and hard graft, but also her calm, measured approach. Warm, bubbly, and enthusiastic, she is refreshingly down to earth. "Half the people I meet think I'm the intern!" she jokes. Simone's grounding is in part due to her set-up. Her mum is her business manager, and her brother (who runs his own independent record label) does her show music. "It's definitely a family affair," she says. "It's so grounding working with your family everyday, they don't let you get away with anything!"
Simone's Chinese and Irish heritage is integral to her identity as a designer, often playing out across her collections. "When I tell people I'm half Irish, half Chinese, people are usually like 'whaaaat?! You're Chirish!' But both places mean so much to me," she says. "I get a huge amount of influence from Hong Kong. Even though my family are from there, I'm fascinated by the idea of being an outsider… looking at things in an interesting way. Ireland influences me in a totally different way. I love how real it feels, how rural and wild. The heritage, the story-telling, the nature, the peat bogs, the west of Ireland… all of that I find really inspiring, in an almost alienating way…"
Investigating the female experience runs throughout Simone's work. There's a poetic backbone to much of what she does. "I look a lot at youth, teenagers, and loss of innocence," she explains. "I love playing with the idea of hard and soft, man-made and organic, I love contrasts. My collections always start from a rebellious place, looking at classic feminine things such as school uniforms or communions, Catholicism… I don't do romance in an emotional way." So is there a certain woman she has in mind when she designs? "I find designing with a certain woman in mind a really weird concept," she says. "I'd never judge a book by its cover. A woman's personality changes and evolves all the time, I'd much rather base a collection around research that hopefully includes different elements that different women can relate to. I've always loved older women, women over 60... Women like Lynn Yaeger or my mum…"
While Simone "definitely feels there's changes in the wind", she's exempt from many of the pressures of the industry. "There's a huge amount of freedom with independence," she confirms, "and I really value that. For us fashion is very intimate. We have a team that really believes in what we're doing so we're able to focus totally on the collection. We only do two collections a year, which means we send out two really strong messages." Would she ever consider introducing pre-collections? "My work is really emotional. I have to be personally involved in it, like the Japan collection. It only happened because I was there. I wasn't just looking at pictures in a book, I could feel it, I could smell it, and I knew I could translate those sensations into clothes. To do any more seems too much…"
In many ways Simone's approach to fashion is more akin to the traditional school of thinking. She adores the shows, and would never replace the visceral experience of the catwalk with digital. "I know doing a show is not very trendy nowadays, and that people no longer even want to go to shows, but I love the old school-ness of them," she confides. "There's nothing I enjoy more. Having 30 minutes to make people feel something is the most amazing privilege. I know it's great that people can watch them online, but I don't think there's any comparison to actually being there. I would be devastated if I couldn't do a show anymore."
Today Simone splits her time between her studio in De Beauvoir, overlooking the canal, where her design team are based, and her studio in Dublin which houses her production team. It's the perfect set up for the designer, both in terms of inspiration and keeping her feet on the ground. "It's very exposing being a designer today," Simone says. "Being present on social media is not why any of us got into this, if we wanted that level of celebrity we would have become pop stars! I design clothes for people to wear, it's a function, and that's why I love design. But I do believe designers can decide how much publicity they want to take on…"With two British Fashion Awards, a store on Mount Street and a baby in just over two years, it's been a whirlwind ride for Simone. So what's next? "A lot has happened lately, for sure!" she concludes. "But the focus for me, absolutely every season, is the next show. If I concentrate on that, then all the wonderful things will fall around it."
Text Holly Shackleton
Photography Matteo Montanari
Styling Victoria Young
Hair Paolo Soffiati at D+V Management using Bumble and bumble
Make-up Georgina Graham at Management + Artists using M.A.C Cosmetics
Nail technician. Michelle Class at Jed Root using Essie
Set design Andrea Cellerino at Streeters
Photography assistance Liberto Fillo
Digital operator Will Grundy
Styling assistance Fan Hong, Fainche Burke
Hair assistance Pablo Kümin
Make-up assistance Porsche Poon
Set design assistance Amy Stickland
Casting Director Angus Munro for AM Casting (Streeters NY)
Production Rosco Production.
Models Ina Jenson at Scoop Models, Line Brems at Oui Management.