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It’s the show prep that I’ve always loved,” says Simone Rocha, designer, Fashion Week stalwart and daughter of John. “The casting, the fittings, the line-up… I’ve loved all that since I first started helping dad backstage when I was 11.”
Her father held LFW shows for more than 25 years — “I’ve been going to shows since I was zero!” she laughs, in a warm Irish chuckle — but Rocha knows that her own show on Monday will feel extra special. We are speaking in the run-up to the return of London Fashion Week, and Rocha’s first in-person show since February 2020, before Covid closed catwalks and plunged the global fashion industry into a state of crisis. She’s more than ready to return.
The upcoming spring/summer ‘22 collection will nod to some of her own greatest hits from the last decade. “I wanted it to be very signature,” she explains, “and for me from the beginning its always been that balance of hard and soft, masculine and feminine, natural and man made.” Despite playing with ideas of femininity, Rocha’s clothes are not, she says, about feminism. “Feminism is a very strong word,” she says. “For me it’s always been more about being equal, equality. I define as an equalist.”
The 35-year-old Central St Martins graduate is one of the leading lights of a generation of talented designers who have re-established London as a major international destination for style (see also: Christopher Kane, Molly Goddard). “I think that’s why London has come on so much [as a fashion week],” Rocha says. “It’s really pushed the opportunity for all those emerging designers. In this city you really can do anything if you have enough conviction and believe in it and you have an identity that other people want to be a part of, anything is possible.”
How exactly has LFW evolved since the days she spent helping her father backstage? “There were only a certain number of designers on the schedule back then… Galliano, McQueen… these incredible shows and real artists… but it was exclusive. Twenty-five years ago you had to wheel your suitcase before a panel and everyone had to show in a tent in the Natural History Museum. Now it can be a show in a church or it can be a film. I think that’s amazing.”
Rocha grew up in Dublin with her father and mother Odette, and completed her BA at The National College of Art and Design in Dublin, before moving to London to study for an MA in fashion design at CSM. She studied under the late Louise Wilson, who ran the fashion department at CSM, and died in 2014.
While it was her father who taught her to crochet and to thread a needle — “he said you never make the thread longer than your elbow because then you get it knotted up which is so true” — studying under Wilson, whose former students include Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Phoebe Philo and Jonathan Saunders, helped Rocha to crystallise her vision.
“She really wanted you to believe in it. She had so much conviction and she was all about you having your own conviction in what you did.” Wilson, she says, encouraged her to self-define as a designer in her own right. “She was like, ‘I don’t care who you are… this is about you and your identity’.” (Although once Rocha graduated “it was very full circle — from ‘I don’t give a f*** who your dad is’ to ‘let’s all go have lunch!’”).
Studying under Wilson wasn’t easy (she remembers “many tears, like many, many tears”) but says having her work dissected by her was “an unbelievable preparation for the reality of the industry… it was one of the best things I ever did in my life. I feel totally humble to have been taught by her.”
It certainly worked, too. On graduating in 2010, Rocha established her eponymous label and initially joined the LFW schedule as part of Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East, a well-respected incubator for the best design talent of each year. In 2011, she hosted her first solo show and ever since then her ceremonial, romance-meets-macabre collections have become a much-loved highlight of the biannual event.
This year, she celebrates a decade in business and has forged a visual identity that people want to be a part of. Her refined and romantic graduate collection was snapped up by Dover Street Market, Matches Fashion and Bergdorf Goodman. The following year, she was accepted for Topshop’s New Gen sponsorship scheme and she was a finalist for the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize in 2013. She’s won three British Fashion Awards, acted as creative director for Moncler’s Genius Group since 2018, and launched a much-hyped collaboration with H&M earlier this year.
“She’s a designer with such a clear sense of who she is, and what she wants to say,” says Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor at H&M. Certainly her distinctly feminine but practical aesthetic is one that translated into an incredibly successful collection for the Swedish retailer, chock-full of colourful beaded jewellery, pearl barrettes, puffy floral dresses and chunky sandals — the entirety of which sold out within hours.
With a five-year-old daughter and a 16-week-old baby, Rocha was very influenced by the idea of mother and child when designing the upcoming collection, “and the kind of procession and ceremony, and the physicality of that… that and the sleepless nights!”.
Her work is powerful and visceral: her spring/summer 2016 collection, which she designed while eight months pregnant with her first child, Valentine McLoughlin — whose father is cinematographer Eoin McLoughlin — was heavy on earrings and embellishments that looked like dripping blood. “I feel very different to that show,” she stresses, reluctant to give away any specifics.
One thing we can be sure of is that her show will be, as usual, set somewhere spectacular, and that the clothes she delivers will major in the semi-surreal lace and tulle-toting girlishness-meets-spookiness for which she’s become known. Dickon Bowden, vice-president of Dover Street Market, “adores” sitting at Rocha’s shows. “You are genuinely transported to an alternative reality,” he says. “And what is truly magic is that she is very happy to take all of us with her.”