Four years ago, fashion designer Simone Rocha exploded onto the scene. Since then, she has obtained a loyal following and won over key stockists worldwide. Her surname isn’t a strange coincidence: Simone is the daughter of John Rocha. She hails from Ireland, studying at The National College of Art and Design in Dublin and Central Saint Martins respectively. Simone can tick off debuting at London Fashion Week with Fashion East, being supported by NEWGEN and winning an Emerging Talent Award at the 2013 British Fashion Awards. Her designs are incredibly tactile. You want to touch and feel. From a distance they look simple, but their intricacy becomes clear on closer inspection.
Accessories are an afterthought for most young designers, but Simone has always included one integral part of a woman’s wardrobe: shoes. Perspex brogues have become her signature – classic lads’ shoes elevated on a see-through heel. Are they comfortable? Designing a revolutionary shoe is one thing but it’s no use if no one’s going to buy them. Customers praise the comfort of the brogues but criticise their heaviness. Longevity for Simone may mean development to stop negative comments. Perspex gave the shoe that floating feel. First sold in 1933, the lightweight plastic tends to look sporty. But Tomoko Ogura, Barneys fashion director, sees current strong designs as “those with more of a feminine touch.” And that is what Simone’s all about.
Femininity: a dirty word that simultaneously evokes pictures of pretty pink dresses and topless protestors. Simone Rocha is redefining this stereotype with her version of an ageless woman unrestricted by clothing. Exploring masculine and feminine boundaries is what she does best. Her design silhouettes aren’t inherently girly; instead given a ladylike edge through the addition of lace and pearls. Even when focusing on restriction for AW14 with straitjacket dropped shoulders and wide waists, Simone still managed to conjure up a sense of freedom: “I was looking at the 1600s and Anne Boleyn – there was such strength in that period. Even with the men and their armour. I wanted to bring that toughness and that military feeling in to ground all the femininity.” This ‘strong male’ quality is lacking in some modern women and is what Simone successfully pushes into our mindsets.
Growing up around fashion instilled a family element into Simone’s collections, seen by her examination of her background for inspiration at the beginning of a new season. Granny’s mass cards led to veils in Simone’s graduate collection while the primarily white with colour flashes SS11 palette came from her Chinese grandad’s grave. Her entire AW13 collection revolved around respect for both her grandmothers.
Ireland also plays a big part in her work but time periods seem to be her main source of inspiration. Simone’s designs may look intrinsically modern but historical undertones always run throughout; her designs are a spectacle to look at, clearly referencing the voluminous nature of 19th century clothing. Simone told Grazia, “It’s about taking something classic and historical and contrasting it with something real and gritty to create something fresh.”
Simone has an unusual way of working with fabrics for an emerging designer, manipulating them to create new materials from existing ones; blending modern and heritage. Hand crafts are regularly used and unconventional is her forte. SS13 saw a shedload of plastic embroidery coming down the catwalk; Rocha herself referring to this experimental technique as a big challenge: “We had to develop the plastic so that it could be folded or used for sewing like other fabrics. The development was difficult but we managed to create a revolutionary material.” She did the same for her recent AW14 collection, constructing new versions of Elizabethan materials using tulle and bonded wool.
Transparency runs through all her collections from the missing trouser fronts of AW10 to SS14’s pearl-encrusted slits. Rocha’s obsession with exposure stems from the artist Louise Bourgeois and her Blue Dress drawing – it shows a skeletal leg and arm through the garment and is an artwork that heavily influences Simone’s work. She deconstructs clothing leaving the bare minimum, revealing the inside to the outside viewer. Simone progressed from SS11’s skeleton coat to AW11’s barely-there sleeves on faux fur garments; plastic SS12 dresses trapping lace and neon daisies arranged on a see-through background for SS13. She tricks the eye into thinking sheer is solid. More importantly, her designs are completely wearable – a vital factor in today’s competitive market.
Rocha is a rare breed. Sheer fabrics are difficult to work with but she seems to relish in the challenge, each season coming up with fresh ideas. She wants people to see the seams of her garments and does so without removing their ethereal quality; ‘folded on the inside, normal on the outside’ is a mantra that Simone must live by. She chooses her fabrics on the basis of control. Oversized tailoring is her aesthetic – perfect for crisp sheers like organza that hang beautifully when not stuck to the body.
“Creativity is at the forefront when I work. Yes, I am designing clothes that I want women to wear, but creativity definitely comes first,” states Simone, whose designs have a strong visual element, especially when seen in succession at a show. So far, she has managed to make them comfortable too, with curated ranges selling out each season, which is important as too much focus on creativity at such a young stage in her career could lead to her downfall. Customers wearing Simone Rocha’s designs say their posture and awareness of the space around them is altered with the width of the garments which is another factor that Simone needs to be wary of: go too big and her clothes will become difficult to wear in everyday life.
Rocha currently has the magic touch and seems to be doing everything right. Let’s hope it stays that way.
This article was written and submitted by Lauren Sharkey for Round 1 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Lauren was invited to take part in Round 2. Read all the published submissions.