“A Feminine Strength”: See Simone Rocha’s Sumptuous New Collection

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Simone Rocha Autumn/Winter 2021 AW21 FW21 LFW
Simone Rocha Autumn/Winter 2021Photography by Jacob Lillis, Styling by Robbie Spencer

The Irish designer’s precise Autumn/Winter 2021 collection explores ideas of hardness and vulnerability through the prism of the rose

Since launching her label in 2010, Simone Rocha has established herself as one of fashion’s most gifted storytellers. Each season, beneath the obvious beauty of her collections, lies narratives of bravery and sexuality; innocence and perversity; fragility and strength – often skillfully mingled together all at once.

The Dublin-born designer has previously looked to stories from Irish history, art, and literature for inspiration – from the Celtic tradition of Wren Day, to John Millington Synge’s tragic play Riders to the Sea. For Autumn/Winter 2021, however, Rocha’s inspirations were found in the “uniformity and naivety” of school days and the simple garden rose, namely the tension between the flower’s sharp thorns and delicate petals.

Live streamed yesterday from a gothic revival church in London, the resulting collection – titled The Winter Roses – saw darkness give way to light. Opening with a series of exquisitely gothic looks, black softened to military greens and airy petal-hues which concluded the show. “This collection was about being very structured, hard and protective, and being slowly broken down to see the fragility beneath,” Rocha tells AnOther. “This is how the show progresses, being less and less protected. The final looks echo the beginning of the show, but replacing the leather with a tulle creeping flower fabric. Even though it is fragile, it is strong.”

A procession of “fragile rebels”, this layered vision of femininity – which makes space for both ferocity and vulnerability, and many states in between – is something the Rocha brand has become synonymous with, gaining the designer a devoted following of women who adore her clothes. This vision of womanhood, and a honing of Rocha’s hallmark silhouettes, were the focus of this particular collection, which she describes as being all about “clarity and identity”. “I hope [this particular collection] continues to present a feminine strength, which is precise, stronger, and signature,” she says.

The collection was primarily crafted from what the show notes describe as “the three graces”: satin, leather and tulle. These materials evoked an array of moods: from a kink-tinged darkness derived from leather, seen in harness-like accents, biker-style jackets, and fetishy full-leather dresses; to decadence from the lustre of sheeny satins, which were scrunched and swirled across dresses and outerwear to look like roses; and lightness achieved through billowing shapes of air-like tulle.

As ever with Rocha’s collections, an attention to craft and detail was evident too, from creeping roses embroidered into tulle, to sculptural rose petals created from waxed cotton, and hand-painted flowers on pearls. Elsewhere, Rocha’s interest in the concepts of “uniformity and naivety” were most evident in the accessories, which riffed on artefacts of childhood like lunch boxes and school bags.

Reflecting on the show, and a year spent working though the pandemic, Rocha says that lockdown has inspired new ways of working. “Practically, I have been developing how to translate the emotion of the collection not being seen physically,” she explains. “My process is very tactile, so I have been working on collaborating through different mediums like film, and sharing the different emotions of the collection … [This show was] set within a gothic revival church as the backdrop to give the feeling of ceremony and community, so it anchored the collection with a sense of place.”

She adds, “Emotionally, [lockdown] has been very intense but I’m trying to stay open-minded to change and new ways of thinking and working.” As for whether The Winter Roses collection represents a response to these difficult times, or an attempt to escape them, Rocha says that it’s a balance. “We cannot be unaffected by the realities of these times and the emotions that it brings with the practical challenges,” she says. “But personally, I have found a lot of solace in my work as a creative escape.”