When questioned on the role a fashion campaign plays in the process of conveying a designer’s communiqué for the season, Simone Rocha summed it up more succinctly than we ever could: “To capture an essence of the clothing in a new perspective, after the show is over.” This ethos is corroborated via the designer’s new campaign for S/S17, where themes of the runway have been distilled into imagery conveying design tropes that are inherently recognisable as her own, but also referencing the photographic practice that directly inspired her latest collection (for the campaign itself is shot by photographer Jackie Nickerson, whose work so enamoured Rocha during the initial design stages).
Upon a visit to The National Gallery of Ireland – located in Rocha’s home country, a place from which she gathers infinite creative stimulus – Rocha viewed Nickerson’s Terrain series, shown in an exhibition alongside portraiture by the old masters. Infatuation was instantaneous: “It was the colours, the subjects and the raw, brutal beauty contained within the African landscape,” the designer explains, with Nickerson’s work depicting agricultural workers, focusing on how labour can leave its mark on individuals and the environment. “It was contrasted with an Irish rural history illustrated in Paul Henry’s painting of potato diggers and was completely captivating.” Rocha has translated the toil of husbandry into her designs artfully, evidenced in broderie anglaise gloves (which, on closer inspection, are crafted from rubber), and wellington-esque boots with her signature perspex heel.
Identity is the cord that binds the work of Nickerson and Rocha together, albeit in divergent ways: Rocha’s exploration of the subject sits at the heart of her design, with a continual homage to her Irish heritage coming forth through mournful lamentation and coquettish charm – a flagrant exploration of Catholic melancholy and the frou-frou of holy communion dress. Nickerson often investigates identity with nuance, her subjects’ faces sculpturally obscured by elements appropriated from landscape – a forensic investigation into the notion of character and status. For the campaign shoot, Nickerson explains the common reasoning behind the location of a farm in Zambia: “We wanted to make images that complimented and emphasised the concept and detail in the clothes.” Rocha continues, “We were thinking of the textural quality of the land, contrasted with the tactility and silhouettes of the garments.”
Despite a harmonious alliance between the duo, executing the campaign proved to be problematic at times, with the shoot process somewhat mirroring the unforgiving nature of outdoor labour. Working against blisteringly hot and relentless 40-degree heat, nostril-invading dust and the threat of poisonous insects at every turn, it wasn’t exactly a pleasurable experience. “Honestly, I think at one point I’d finished everyone off! Including me! But the team was so unshakeable. I have to say that Simone was a star, the consummate professional,” exclaims Nickerson. (The photographer also has immeasurable praise for campaign star Odette Pavlova, who had to perform for the camera in swathes of lace, under the blazing South African sun).
The level of commitment demonstrated by Rocha and Nickerson in pursuit of success has paid off; the campaign is enchanting. It also speaks of the integral process of collaboration in fashion between photographer and designer, alongside the multifarious influences that help to foster this synergy. As Nickerson explains, “I think we all look for inspiration from things outside our immediate practice – so for example a designer might look at architecture or industrial design, painting, sculpture and other art forms.” For Rocha, the act of collaboration is also deeply personal: “I have the pleasure to work with people I really connect with: both their work and as people. It always feels like we’re going on a pilgrimage together – it’s an authentic connection.”