A Love Letter to Mothers: Inside Simone Rocha and Kerry J Dean’s New Zine

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Self, Son, and Simone
Self, Son, and SimonePhotography by Kerry J Dean

The beautiful and intimate new zine sees the photographer Kerry J Dean photograph Rocha’s Autumn/Winter 2020 collection on herself and son amid striking British landscapes

“Every collection has an intimacy to me, emotionally and physically,” Simone Rocha says over email as the Irish designer prepares to reveal her latest project – a beautiful and intimate zine made in collaboration with photographer Kerry J Dean, which captures Rocha’s dark and elegant Autumn/Winter 2020 collection on Dean and her three-year-old son at home. Bringing together sublime natural scenes, vulnerable nude self-portraiture and Rocha’s designs, the project is an immersion into Dean’s own private world, and a tender ode to both mothers and Mother Nature. 

Rocha first became aware of Dean when she saw the photographer’s striking series Pom Pom Girls, which documents schoolgirls in the Gobi desert in Mongolia, who sport serious looks and colourful flower hair scrunchies amid searing blue skies, local buildings and stretches of sand. “Then during lockdown she personally reached out to me about collaboration on a project,” Rocha explains. After exchanging ideas, the two women decided on a photo story about family – something that is central to both Rocha and Dean’s respective personal worlds, and something that has become more vital to many of us than ever before through the hardships of this tumultuous year. “I wanted to work on one project that focused on the time we were in, personally and socially, looking inwards, holding dear what’s most important,” Dean explains. 

Shot amid the lush and verdant landscapes of the English countryside, Self, Son, and Simone’s intimate pages are filled with scenes of maternal closeness which are characterised by joy, warmth and play, but also, in places, tinged with a sense of isolation and melancholy befitting the times we are currently living in. In its pages, we see beautiful portraits on empty beaches and wild, green glades, which suggest there isn’t another soul nearby for hundreds of miles. As with Rocha’s romantic and ceremonial designs, a tension between celebratory radiance and darkness is there. “I find beauty in the darkness, the unsettling,” the designer told AnOther this summer. “It’s always that tension that I find beautiful and interesting.” 

Dean moved from bustling London to her countryside idyll with her son and partner at the start of this challenging and unique year, acquiring a disused flower nursery the photographer describes as a “magical and feral” place, punctuated by a “mishmash of meadows, dilapidated potting sheds and greenhouses and overgrown woodland”. “Little did we know how vivid the change would be; isolation, a new reality, a new normal,” the photographer writes in the zine’s introduction, describing this uncertain period of time as both “exhilarating and exhausting, filled with elation and joy in tandem with heartbreak and loss”. Though the past few months have been marked by a whirlwind of emotions for Dean – a result of the move, upheaval of lockdown, and the experience of a personal loss in her life – the photographer states that she hasn’t looked back. “London will always have a huge part of my heart, but having space, trees and sea air is life affirming, as is watching our three-year-old grow up in and amongst it.”

In these private images – which softly capture skin-on-skin embraces between mother and son, walks down the coast, and the in-between moments of life in nature – are designs from Rocha’s breathtaking Autumn/Winter 2020 collection. “There’s such a ceremony to her clothes, even in the dressing itself, they felt beautifully theatrical, and quite transformative,” Dean says of how Rocha’s designs made her feel. The collection’s initial inspiration came from Dublin-born playwright John Millington Synge’s Riders to the Sea, a stirring play about loss, nature and human resilience, which tells the tale of sons and a father drowned at sea, and the grieving mother and wife who is left behind. The resulting designs made for a particularly powerful and poetic collection, which wove the universal experiences which touch each of our lives into every piece – birth, ritual, loss, life and death. “For Kerry to take the collection into her own world and perspective it really felt right for my A/W20 collection, which in essence is a story about family,” says Rocha. “I think in the pictures these themes are explored through motherhood, childhood and nature.”

For both women, the lockdown has made a yearning for familial closeness more keenly felt than ever, something which is evident in the pages of Self, Son, and Simone. “With everything this year there has been more focus and intimacy which has translated into the work,” says Rocha. For both, motherhood and women are central to not only their personal lives, but to their work too – “being a mum influences everything,” says Dean. “Motherhood is always relevant to me as it’s a part of my life,” adds Rocha. 

Evident too is a “craving for nature”, as Rocha puts it, something felt by many these past few months, when a need to escape and ground oneself has never been greater. “I didn’t grow up near the sea. I didn’t anticipate it being so addictive and so part of life,” Dean says appreciatively of her new surroundings. “Cold-water swimming is a therapy. I can’t now imagine not having that.” For Rocha, though, the sea has long held a special meaning to her. “Being from Ireland, a small island surrounded by the sea, it’s always felt very close to me,” the designer says. “I think we are at our most peaceful and natural in nature and the elements … The landscape and escapism. Also there is nothing like getting into the sea, head under to feel reborn.” 

Self, Son, and Simone is available at the Simone Rocha Mount Street store in London and Wooster Street store in New York from October 16, 2020.