Saturday 17 March 2018

The rise and rise of Simone Rocha

Simone Rocha was taught by her parents not to do things by half, and it shows

Simone SS16
Simone SS16
Simone SS16
Alexa Chung
SImone SS14
Simone Rocha was taught by her parents not to do things by half
Saoirse Ronan is a fan of Simone Rocha's work.
Rihanna Wearing Simone Rocha
Simone AW15
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Simone Rocha has been very, very productive.

At 29, the talented Dubliner has produced innovative and hugely covetable collections for the last five years, since debuting at London Fashion Week.

Her twist on classics and originality at redefining femininity has sent her label into vertical orbit, landing Simone onto the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 list, a gathering of young game-changers, movers and makers compiled by A-lister judges from 600 high-achieving millennials in 20 fields.

Awards and accolades aside, Simone's most exciting, personal project is just weeks away - the birth of her first child, a daughter. Simone discovered she was pregnant when she visited Kyoto with her boyfriend, earlier this year and, through a pregnancy fog, the Japanese visuals of moss, a bride in a bamboo forest and the underbelly of seedy sake bars informed her SS16 collection (pictured above) which she unveiled two weeks ago to critical acclaim at LFW.

With her pregnancy hormones heightened, Simone looked at the art of Japanese bondage ties and the provocative play-offs of hard versus soft - the cross-body bandoliers and harnesses in woven plastic (pictured above) contrasting brilliantly with the big, pretty, voluminous skirts.

Chatting with Simone after her AW15 collection at the Guildhall, I commented on the sheer breadth of looks and the gloriously tactile fabrications - from luxurious velvet capes embellished with jet beading and houndstooth tweed dresses trimmed with big pearls.

Taking inspiration from the fabrics woven by artist Louise Bourgeois, her current AW15 collection (on sale at Havana, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, her sole Irish stockist) used Italian red chenille on capes and this dress (pictured right) with frill running down the side.

Our coffee and chat back in 2010 at the Dublin studio of her fashion designer father, John (who has since retired from catwalk collections), marked the completion of her Saint Martins graduate collection which boasted beautiful floating panels in tulle and masculine tailoring. Generous with her time, Simone talked about her plans and noted that while her dad's initial advice had been "Don't go into fashion", later, when she decided to continue her studies, he recommended that she go study with Louise Wilson, the head of Central Saint Martins' prestigious MA course, and to be the best she could.

Five years later, critics are hooked by Simone's exciting design aesthetic and it's not just the slew of awards and heavyweights like Anna Wintour on her FROW that marks her out - it's the Dubliner's ability to take her growing fanbase on a different journey each season.

It was, I must confess, thrilling to sit front row at Lancaster House two weekends ago for Simone's keenly awaited SS16 show. Tickets were at a premium and we arrived early and soaked up the sense of occasion and the atmosphere of the historic building off the Mall where Chopin once played for Queen Victoria and where they filmed some of The King's Speech and Downton Abbey.

We were mesmerised as Simone's model troop marched through the grand Louis XIV-style interiors to the beat of music curated by her brother Max. We drank in the vista - the "sad" floppy bows, the metallic trellis fabrics, the twinkling bevelled crystal earrings reminiscent of parts of chandeliers, and the black macramé braids criss-crossing the body, some worn over tissue-light, tulle tea dresses, others over deep-cuffed trousers.

Writing for Vogue, the influential Suzy Menkes praised the "powerful" show, describing it as "the most beautiful rendition the designer has yet produced of bringing sensual depth to pretty clothes".

Ingenuity with fabrics has marked Simone Rocha out in our affections, that and her clear, perspex heel shoes which are her signature, thoroughly grounded in the present. Simone admits she has been slagged about them by men, who have called them 'ugly' but women clearly adore them, hence the waiting lists.

Stepping out well and truly from the shadow of her designer dad, Simone has won over women by her playful use of fabrics that turns wearing her clothes into a total textural experience that envelops you. There was the trapped lace panels in plastic in AW11 and the Pepto-Bismol pink aertex coats in AW13 that spawned copycats from the admiring high street. Simone's AW14 collection with its Anne Boleyn/Elizabeth silhouettes earned her a standing ovation at the Tate and sent customers scurrying off the following season to buy her tartans and red brushed wool checkerboard dress with crocheted neckline (above).

Simone says she wants all kinds of women to be able to relate to her work, "their feminine side, playful side, boyish style".

I welcome the fact she revisits themes: her mirror-finished silver leathers that appeared first in AW12 are back in bags and shoes, her brogues have taken on a life, and fanbase, of their own and then there's her pearls. In an interview with Stylist magazine, Simone spoke about her 'thing' with pearls.

"I remember when I was in school, girls used to wear rugby jerseys and pearl earrings. It was a posh girl look and I always thought, 'God, I don't want to be in that gang!'" she said. However, after writing about Simone for years, I was surprised to read where her original idea for using pearls came from: no less than former president, Mary Robinson, who Simone described as "an amazing lady".

"I was behind her once at the security queue at the airport and she was wearing a black polo neck with pearls over the top. I thought that was amazing," said Simone, who has added pearls as adornments to lots of her AW15 and SS16 pieces (top right).

Simone Rocha hits the spot at London Fashion Week  

Family with a capital F is hugely important to Simone whose personal world is about to be extended, joyfully, by one. "We are super close, family is extremely important to me," Simone has said, fortunate to have her mum, Odette, working as her business manager after learning so much from her dad, both as a helpful teenager, eager student and fellow professional at London Fashion Week. The raven-haired Dubliner has made a huge stamp on the international scene with remarkable speed. After being stocked at Dover Street Market, Browns, Colette in Paris, Bergdorf Goodman and 10 Corso Como in Milan, Seoul and Shanghai, she now has what she wanted, her own store in London's Mayfair - a building that talks to her clothes, and her customers.

Simone Rocha's celebrity fans

Simone has been dressing everyone from Lady Gaga to Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, to committed Irish fan, actress Saoirse Ronan. The fellow Dubliner has been wearing Simone Rocha on the red carpet, and in private, for years. There is the perfect synergy for the two young creative Irish women to be aligned and Saoirse wore Simone's AW 2012 sheer cutout dress and bouclé knit Oxford brogues to the 2013 IFTAS in Dublin. Saoirse wore Simone's white perforated halterneck with tulle long sleeves with cutout layered skirt from her SS13 collection to the premiere of the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 in LA.

Pop princess Rihanna chose Simone's white brocade jacket and matching pencil skirt with patent leather Mary Jane shoes in New York last March to promote her upcoming movie, Home. Clearly a fan, Rihanna wore Simone's SS14 floral-embellished plastic white skirt with a pair of Givenchy lace-up Oxfords and a crop top in March 2014.

A fur-trimmed metallic midi attracted lots of attention when both Keira Knightly and Alexa Chung chose it for red carpet duties.

IT girl Alexa chose Simone's sellout marabou feather-trimmed black satin duchess dress on a Nails Inc trip to Dublin and interview with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show last November.

Picture: Linda Brownlee

Irish Independent

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