Since showing her debut at London’s Fashion Week in 2010, Simone Rocha has made it clear that collaborating with contemporary artists is key to her creative process: ardent followers of the designer’s development have witnessed her drawing inspiration from and uniting with photographers with whom she feels a particular resonance. When questioned on why working with creatives who often operate outside of the fashion industry holds such an importance to her, she simply explains that it’s about opening up her world to other people. “It’s a fusion of ideas coming together to create a modern form of romance,” she says. “What I make is physical and, with my collaborators, it’s about sharing that physical thing with others.”
Yesterday saw a new Simone Rocha retail space open on New York’s Wooster Street, showcasing interiors that echo the Cells of Louise Bourgeois, and featuring a hanging Bourgeois bronze alongside artworks from Robert Rauschenberg and Ren Ri. In honour of the opening, a special limited edition book – succinctly named Book 3, as the third edition in a series of her creative projects – has been curated and produced by Rocha, celebrating the work of some of the collaborators and friends with whom she has formed a particular alliance. “I think the common thread is that I feel a personal connection to each work,” she explained from New York. “All the work is very real and grounded, exploring ideas of landscape, nature and real life.”
Pages printed with new images that Rocha created in collaboration with Jackie Nickerson feature in this tome – aptly, since the artist directly inspired Rocha’s S/S17 collection. “Jackie’s work, especially Farm and Terrain, have been very inspirational to me, so it was an amazing opportunity to work together on this imagery. We went to Zambia and shot this series called Livingstone, part of which we are using as our S/S17 campaign imagery,” she says. That collection was presented on a purpose-built runway inside Southwark Cathedral last season, and so it also seems fitting that the series Churches, shot by long-time collaborator Jacob Lillis, features in the book. “With Churches I love the feeling of stillness within the space, and the room having a presence and a place for people to congregate,” she says.
Alongside allusions to the sacred Catholicism intrinsic within her own culture, there also is a clear indication towards pockets of Irish history erring on the side of melancholia: “I was originally inspired by Perry’s Pony Kids that appear in the first book and how he captured the Irish youth in Dublin,” says Rocha, describing the photographs of Perry Ogden, also featured in this new edition. “When I saw his breath-taking photos of the West of Ireland and the peat diggers, they really spoke to me. It was important to make a contrast between the Irish agriculture with the African agriculture that features in Jackie’s work.”
In a similar resonance of themes, Perry Ogden’s aforementioned Pony Kids is mirrored in Book 3 via Niall O’Brien’s series Good Rats, which documents the early 00s London street punk scene. “I feel very connected to this body of work of Niall’s because I remember him shooting all the boys at the time. Niall was so involved with the youth and the series is so captivating,” Rocha says.
And finally, breaking the photographic mould, Book 3 contains a selection of drawings by revered contemporary artist Roni Horn: “It was a privilege for her to contribute as such an inspiring and established artist. She always puts herself into her work, which I respect and admire, so I was very grateful that she gave a bit of herself for the book,” explains Rocha. When asked what the future might hold, the designer wasn’t going to give any details away just yet, simply adding that the artist she would most like to collaborate with would be Rachel Whiteread. Conversely, the figure she laments never having been able to work with (due to the minor inconvenience of time travel not yet having been invented) is king of chiaroscuro, Caravaggio. We’ll just have to wait and see if those influences visibly unfold at her A/W17 collection, which is due to be presented later this week.
Book 3 is available now at Simone Rocha’s New York store, at 71 Wooster Street, as well as the existing London store at 93 Mount Street.