Saturday 17 March 2018

I've got the Rocha DNA, but I'm differnt

Simone Rocha has followed her father John into the world of fashion. As she debuts her first collection, she speaks exclusively to Bairbre Power about family, living in London and the pressures of stepping out of her father’s shadow.

Simone Rocha final year show at LFW.
Simone Rocha final year show at LFW.

Bairbre power

If Simone Rocha is anxious or feeling the pressure , it doesn't show. All eyes are on the 23-year-old to see if the NCAD and Central St Martins graduate shares her father's design sensibilities.

John Rocha is a hard act to follow, an international lifestyle brand recognised around the world, but Simone displayed a surprising maturity when she showcased her Masters graduate collection at London Fashion Week (LFW) in February.

The snub-nosed, leather 'hoof' shoes (only 10 pairs made) were the instant hit of the show, along with her double-layered tulle masculine jacket and coat.

Paring down traditional tailoring, she romanticised the look using luxurious, see-through silk tulle instead of traditional wool.Her hat rings made from wire are going into production cast in silver.

International fashion magazines have already called in her collection although it remains to see if they will feature it in their editorial spreads. In the meantime, Simone now faces the commercial constraints of turning her fashion vision into a retail reality.

When we met in Dublin, she was busy investigating how much it would cost to get the 10 looks into production and onto the shop rails at an affordable price by autumn. That's pressure enough in itself for most young designers, but Rocha has the added pressure of doing so under a keenly-trained spotlight.

"Of course there are pressures, it's inevitable -- just the same as if your father is a musician and you want to play music," she says. "The pressures were there but I've always looked at it with the best perception possible. If anything kept me awake it was trying to produce the best collection that I could, to stand on my own two feet, otherwise why would you do it?"

The curiosity in Simone is all the more intense because she arrives into an industry where passing on the baton to a second generation is rare. Miuccia taking over from her mother Luisa at Prada. Nathalie Rykiel was the advertising face of her mother Sonia's brand and not too many other examples spring to mind.

The second of John Rocha's three children, Simone says she wanted to design in her own right rather than work with her dad whose business interests extend from fashion to crystal,eyewear to interiors.

"I've got to take all that I have and really try to develop as myself. It's in my DNA but it has its own identity, I think I have my own identity," she says, gazing across at her black and cream debt collection with a single pop of colour, a headpiece of fuchsia-pink tulle.

The collection was partly inspired by Perry Ogden's photographs of Irish Travellers and also by traditions from the west of Ireland, such as bereaved women wearing aprons over their heads which provided the inspiration for her tulle headpiece."I wanted to pare it down and romanticise it, so I decided to translate the fabrication and used silk tulle and treated wools. I made my own cashmere wool shoulder pads and did it all by hand, the same way a tailor would with fell stitching.

"I did 10 looks with 17 pieces so there are lots of pieces that are interchangable. I thought that would be a fresh approach and people could interprete the pieces in their own way.

"My favourite piece is the tulle masculine jacket because I love a man's jacket on a woman. I think it is so beautiful because it's mixing masculinity with femininity. It's hard and soft and I love that contradiction. I loved the contradiction of the wool and tulle, something so earthy with something so delicate. I love that the jacket should be in wool, but it's not and that makes the piece more interesting.

While she suffers from dyslexia, Simone did not allow the learning difficulty get in the way of her creative dreams to carve a design label of her own. She investigated new concepts like cutting away at traditional shapes like the classic pencil skirt. "I thought I'll just cut away at it and see what happens. I was really looking at changing a silhouette and the proportions but I wanted it to be solid. The trousers were inspired by tracksuits. I wanted something really tough and boyish so I applied 'skeletoning', where you treat everything like the skeleton of what it is, taking these boyish trousers and removing some of it to let some of the beauty through, which, to me, is the human body."

The journey to claim her independence saw her move out of her parent's home in Ranelagh two years ago and set up base in London, where she lives on her own in a flat in a warehouse in Dalston, East London. Her younger brother Max (20) is a student and she describes him as "a cool kid". Her half-sister Zoe, from John Rocha's first marriage to designer Eily Doolan, works in film.

"Of course I missed my family when I moved," she says, "but they are over quite a lot and visit me in Dalston where I cook them breakfast. One of the main reasons I moved away is because I was much more anonymous in London," explains Simone. (She applied for her Masters degree at Central St Martins as a number, rather than with a surname.)

Her mother Odette describes Simone as "a very strong character who knows exactly what she wants" while her father John says, "I never encouraged her to go into fashion. It's a very tough journey and you need a lot of confidence and hard work to survive but I think Simone has done much better than I could have imagined and I'm very proud."

After her graduate show, Simone celebrated with a trip to Marrakech and a tattoo of a small 'X' on her ankle. For Easter, she plans to visit her grandmother in Hong Kong before travelling to New York.

"I like to to work really hard but I also like to have a lot of fun," she says. "I know my mum says I'm wild but I'm not that bad. I'm a 23-year-old Irish-Chinese girl living in East London just taking everything in: the work, the people and the creativity.

"I'm a very lucky girl because I have a beautiful family and friends and that really moulds me as a person. I love my work and the fact that I've paved the way to work in something creative for the rest of my life. I love that it's so inspiring and there are so many mediums that I can dip into."

A hint that she may branch out into other areas, just like her father has done.

"At this moment in time, I'm about producing this small collection which really shows my identity for what it is , rather than trying to do other elements at the same time. I think the focus at the moment is trying to put my aesthetic out there so people can see what my clothes are about."

She wants her clothes to be priced so that she and her friends could afford to buy them when they go on sale at the 15A Dover Street store in London in the autumn.

"I've used very fancy fabrics but I still want it to be realistic. Some clothes should be in a glass box, beautiful pieces of art, but I do think that people should be able to wear beautiful things, otherwise what's the point? We'd all be going around in tracksuits."

Bairbre Power, fashion editor

Irish Independent

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