This article is published as part of a new series of Designer Interviews, where we’re speaking to some of the industry’s most crucial voices about this current – and highly unique – moment in fashion history.
Simone Rocha holds many things in tension: the light and the dark, the beautiful and the unsettling, the pure and the perverse, the romantic and the pragmatic, a fresh kind of girlhood and an ancient kind of womanhood. There is another tension, too – that of dressing women, arming them, to face the reality we live in and offering them alternative one to escape into. A reality that is glittering and glorious, so different from the often grey and grim one we actually occupy. It’s this tension that feels particularly pertinent to now, when times are tough for many and fashion’s role either as armour or as an escape feels vital.
In February, the month we may now look upon as the deep breath before the plunge, before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, bringing the whole world to a grinding halt, Rocha presented her Autumn/Winter 2020 collection as part of London Fashion Week. As she often does, the designer drew upon her heritage, looking to Ireland and Irish literary renaissance playwright John Millington Synge’s 1904 play Riders to the Sea, which is set in the Aran Islands off the west coast of the island. The play follows the story of a woman who loses her husband and five of her sons to the sea – it’s emotional, much like Rocha’s clothes. Styled by Robbie Spencer, the collection took inspiration from funeral traditions, channelling them into an at times staggeringly beautiful display of textiles, silhouettes and knits, culminating in a bride clad in lace and crowned with pearls. I often think about (and quote) Tim Blanks’ review of Dries Van Noten’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection, published on Vogue Runway, in which he said that “It’s fashion’s job to remind us that beauty is a human need.” Here, at Rocha’s show, this was keenly felt.
Today, six months on, Rocha releases a film that captures this collection, exclusively on AnOthermag.com. Here, writing over email, she opens up about the past half-year, how she’s adapting to this ‘new normal’ and whether she feels that she designs clothes for armour or escape.
Ted Stansfield: How have the past six months been for you?
Simone Rocha: It’s been interesting … So complex and complicated, emotional and humbling.
TS: Are you back in the studio now?
SR: We are back – it was very different to be creative in the same way while apart from my team – with all the precautions in place to keep everyone safe and well.
“Every day is a new day and we have to be adaptable, malleable and open to change” – Simone Rocha
TS: In terms of your brand, how are you adapting to this ‘new normal’?
SR: We’re taking it day by day. Every day is a new day and we have to be adaptable, malleable and open to change. So it has been a time to pause and reflect on everything we do. So many aspects of the new normal have been about adapting creativity, how to share and present my work in a new way while still sharing an experience and new ideas. So, I have had to restructure the vision and story in the collections but still always push ideas creatively.
TS: How has this time – the confinement, the upheaval and the uncertainty of it – changed your outlook on things?
SR: Like most, it has given me a great appreciation of everything we have, and even though we have been affected, with all our stores closed and working remotely, et cetera, it’s small compared to what so many have had to go through. So, it has made me feel a little small in the grand scheme of things but also it has been a serious wake-up [call] to everything around us, the importance [of taking] care of each other and working in a conscious way across the board – from the planet to diversity.
TS: Has it also changed the way you create?
SR: It has made me more focused. When we were all working in isolation from home it really highlighted how talented, creative, determined and dedicated my team are, how we need to collaborate and respect each other. Personally, I enjoyed having solo focused time on design and the space to think and create.
TS: Do you feel like the Simone Rocha world is about arming women to face the reality we live in and offering them alternative one to escape into?
SR: I think it’s a balance of both … I worked the whole way through. We have always done only two collections a year as it takes time to develop and dissect just one collection. I want to make emotional clothes and doing that has to be grounded in reality, so a balance between both worlds needs to be found.
“I want to make emotional clothes and that has to be grounded in reality” – Simone Rocha
TS: How would you describe your perspective of beauty? Obviously it is just that, beautiful, but there’s also a sense of darkness to it, maybe even a perversity. What do you draw on?
SR: Yes, it’s always a balance. I find beauty in the darkness, the unsettling. It’s always that tension that I find beautiful and interesting.
TS: Can you tell me about the main ideas behind your A/W20 collection?
SR: It was an ideal of Ireland, the west and the sea, JM Synge’s play Riders to the Sea, and the story of a family losing the battle with the sea, how it takes their sons from them. I wanted to translate that emotion and the funeral tradition into textiles, silhouette, knits – almost playing out like a play itself.
TS: How did you go about capturing this collection in this film? What mood or feeling were you trying to convey?
SR: I asked the director Hugh Mulhern to collaborate. I shared with him the inspiration and narrative of the collection – Irish artefacts, works by the artist Dorothy Cross and excerpts from the play. I wanted the film to feel like the tide coming in and the pace and race of the final offering, the show.
TS: How do you view this collection, given all that has happened since you presented it in February?
SR: In February, it felt like the perfect storm. Even before everything that has happened, things felt very ominous. The collection still feels a little bit unsettling to me. Seeing it again in the stores, and being able to share something beautiful and poetic, does give me hope and positivity.
“I hope to keep creating proactive collections and an interesting perspective of femininity with a conscience” – Simone Rocha
TS: What is the future of Simone Rocha?
SR: I hope to keep creating proactive collections and an interesting perspective of femininity with a conscience.
TS: I feel like, after this period of confinement, people are going to want to dress up, to feel beautiful and glamorous again. Would you agree? Do you feel like that at all?
SR: I do think we are all craving company and interaction! And some light relief. So yes, personally I’d love to dress up and go to a party with friends and strangers.
Styling: Robbie Spencer. Casting: Piergiorgio Del Moro and Samuel Ellis Scheinman. Hair: Gary Gill. Make-up: Thomas de Kluyver. Manicure: Ama Quashie. Director: Hugh Mulhern. Music: Lankum. Cinematography: Eoin Mcloughlin. Puppetry: Ben Cresswell. Production: Lizzie Ridout. Editing: Matt Kitchin. Music design: A Portal to Jump Through.