simone rocha explores irish folklore for SS20
The designer took us up to Alexandra Palace for a collection inspired by the Wren Boys of St Stephen's Day.
Simone Rocha’s SS20 show felt incredibly special – dragged up out of town up onto Muswell Hill, to Alexandra Palace, in an afternoon of bright, beautiful sunshine. You could sense it would be a one off. The show was staged in the Alexandra Palace Theatre -- which was restored and reopened late last year after being closed for eighty years, but has been left just untouched enough to still hold a shabby, faded grandeur.
The faded grandeur of interior of the space was picked up in the clothes Simone showed this season -- which were predominantly influenced ornate peeling wallpapers and broken Delft crockery.
The starting point for it all, Simone explained, was the Irish traditions of St Stephen’s Day, when people chase and catch a wren, the smallest bird of the British Isles, and parade it through the town, dressed up in straw masks and suits. They go through town, door to door, singing and asking for money. “It was all inspired by these poor, punkish, Irish, boys,” Simone said, “I was interested in their masculinity, and finding a way of working with that and contrasting it with the grand interiors of the houses they were knocking on.”
“The Wren boys all wear these woven raffia hats and I wanted to translate that into womenswear. I started working the raffia into things with pearls, and lace, but then it grew into making whole pieces out of it, in crochet or macramé, and then it became like a cage for the dresses, almost like a bird cage.”
The show was dramatic and resplendent, maybe partly a result of the theatrical space and the Irish choral soundtrack, but there was something deeply emotionally powerful about it. Each season it feels like Simone continues to refine her aesthetic world -- that mix of sweetness, fragility and darkness -- but here it pushed into some of the most poetic and arresting clothing she has created.
Her last two collections have dealt with her Chinese heritage, and female eroticism, the body, and her love of Louise Bourgeois, respectively, but here Simone was freeing herself of such personal histories and intimate explorations and instead it felt lighter and purer and softer. She described some of the looks as “shadows of dresses” – the most arresting combined lace, stars, pearls, layered over tulles and patchworks.
It was modelled on a cast of Irish theatre actors alongside the regular models, and shown in the round, the models doing a lap of the audience. “I wanted it to feel special,” she said, with some understatement. “I've been showing in a lot of historical buildings recently, but the shows are all split across different rooms. Here I wanted to bring everyone together.” Which she did.
Photography Mitchell Sams.