Irish Film and Theatre Actresses Walked in Simone Rocha’s Fashion Week Show

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Simone Rocha S/S20 Paul Phung London Fashion Week
Simone Rocha Spring/Summer 2020Photography by Paul Phung

For Spring/Summer 2020, the designer looked to the ancient Irish tradition of ‘Wren Boys’ and cast Ireland-born stage and screen actresses in the show

Amid the faded grandeur of Alexandra Palace’s circular theatre – first opened in 1875 and subsequently left to disrepair until a recent restoration – Ireland-born designer Simone Rocha presented her latest collection, which saw her turn towards her native country and its ancient lore.

Rocha said the collection began with an exploration of ‘Wren Boys’, a centuries-old tradition whereby young men from Ireland’s western counties would hunt and capture a wren on St Stephen’s day, the day after Christmas. Undertaken with ritual pomp, the ‘Wren Boys’ would don intricately wrought costumes and masks woven from straw for the task, which later came to involve travelling from door-to-door singing and performing for money. Often these houses were Ireland’s grand country homes, many of which now lie in various states of disrepair. It was this opposition – the hand-crafted ceremonial costumes of the ‘Wren Boys’ and the imagined interiors of these abandoned stately homes – which propelled the collection to life.

Raffia headbands, delicately plaited and studded with pearls, straw handbags and sashes nodded to the collection’s folkloric roots – albeit in Rocha’s signature romantic style – melded with fabrics evocative of interiors: a faded blue Delft-china motif was embroidered on layers of ivory tulle, a “peeling wallpaper” print on silk taffeta. Scalloped fabrics, broderie anglais and macramé recalled chintzy turn-of-the century soft furnishings. A sense of weight was achieved with rich, heirloom brocades – like those traditionally used for upholstery – made for voluminous ladylike outerwear, and slimmer, pinched tailoring. That tailoring – narrow in the body, its silhouette drawn in part from the men’s crombie jacket, and worn with slim-legged trousers, cropped at the ankle – provided a diversion from Rocha’s elaborate feminine gowns, for which she is known.

“There’s lots of trousers, crombies, peacoats – some are done in very masculine ways and then mixed with the upholsteries from the houses and interpreted into woven brocades and cloques,” she told Business of Fashion. “The girls feel like they are stomping through the space.”

Befitting that space – where once over 3,000 people would have once congregated to watch pantomime, opera, drama and ballet – a series of Irish theatre actresses walked the show, including Olwen Fouéré, Jessie Buckley and Simone Kirby. Film actresses Tia Bannon and Lesley Manville walked too, the latter of which was nominated for an Oscar last year for her role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread.