The East London-based, Irish-born designer Simone Rocha has a signature style that has long lived in the interplay between traditionally juxtaposing concepts. Feminine and masculine detailing, dark and light palettes, and soft and hard silhouettes and fabrication have consistently circulated in her collections. But at a time when the world feels in constant conflict, Rocha’s perspective hits differently, presenting a roadmap for how seemingly opposing ideas can come together seamlessly.
“Even though it is fragile, it is strong,” said Simone Rocha, referencing her latest fall-winter offering of 32 impeccably crafted looks, which debuted in February 2021. “This collection was about it being very structured, hard and protective and being slowly broken down to see the fragility.” A progression of moments and moods that many of us can relate to from the past year’s events, Rocha’s show ultimately left us feeling humbled by life’s natural cycles and empowered by the coexistence of strength and weakness.
Despite all the breaking down, there is something very positive at the end of this process, according to Rocha. “This season I am calling it ‘The Winter Roses,’ exploring clarity and identity and making pieces that are precise, stronger, and signature.” It seems that, for Rocha, this past year has been about evolution and the reemergence at the other end with a stronger sense of self.
According to Rocha’s design sensibility, that evolved sense of self can be an amalgamation of identifiers. Biker jackets perfectly pair over tulle dresses, white bridal beading sit well-adjusted on black tracker-sole combat boots, and pearl embellishments look brilliant atop the leather harnesses that they’re attached to. In all, it’s a collection that is free of tradition yet meticulously crafted from history and the blending of binary ideals.
Blending is actually a great word to describe what Rocha accomplishes. A melting pot of ideas, her perspective has developed over years of iterating on well-researched designs, a modern philosophy on femininity, and a commitment to developing new thinking.
This openness to new ideas and a lack of fear of being pointed in thought, yet teetering in the inbetween has undoubtedly served her well in recent times. “The whole industry has had to adapt to a new way of working—to be both more patient and collaborative at the same time,” she said when asked about how her thinking has changed this last year. “This made my team really focus on what the signatures of the brand are and what the core source of the aesthetic and craft come from. It made us very creative and explorative.”
Taking a page out of Rocha’s book, there is truly no time like the present to narrow in on what we really stand for as brands and as individuals, and to celebrate what really matters to us. In response to what conversations we need to have in fashion right now, Rocha responded, “Discussions of inclusivity, diversity, and how we can all work more sustainably.” It’s an ethical framework that we can—and need—to get behind.
But in a time of disconnection, it’s incredibly difficult to find ways to impact each other with these positive notions. The limitations of our socially distanced world has created unique challenges for designers like Rocha who have previously relied on in-person experiences to move an audience toward her way of thinking. “Practically, I have been developing how to translate the emotion of the collection not being seen physically,” said Rocha, “especially as my process is very tactile, so it has been working on collaborating through different mediums like film, and sharing the different emotions of the collection.”
The result of this process was a film that she shot in a Gothic Revival church near Hyde Park with only eight models for the 32 looks, strict safety protocols, and no audience. The venue served as a “backdrop to give the feeling of ceremony and community that anchored the collection with a sense of place,” explained Rocha, who expressed immense pride in her team who came together to quickly adjust to what now feels like the new norm. “It is definitely a different process to putting on a show with guests, but it still has the same objective to present the collection in an immersive and explorative way.”
For Rocha, this has been a journey that she has shared with her family in East London. A typical day for her includes dropping her daughter off at school before heading into the studio. “The last year has been very difficult and different at times,” Rocha said relating the new challenges we all face. But despite the difficulty and the new way of working, she shows no sign of slowing down.
Just in the past 12 months, while many of us paused and Netflixed our way through the pandemic, she has produced three collections. The latest was a 111-piece collection of women’s, men’s, and children’s clothes created for H&M, which reportedly crashed the company’s servers when it launched last week.
It’s no surprise that she’s achieved such success. Having come from a family made up of creatively inclined genes—her father was Hong Kong-born fashion designer John Rocha—and being meticulously trained at Central Saint Martins, Simone Rocha has already reached great heights at the age of 34. She’s dressed a number of style icons including Chloe Sevigny, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Oprah, and Keira Knightley, and she has collaborated with brands like Moncler, Topshop, and J Brand.
But if we had to bet, Simone Rocha is really only just getting started. If her approach to design reflects her philosophy on life, she’s been ahead of us all along—and will continue to be in the years to come.