After a mad-dash year traveling through Europe, Asia, and America, presenting two critically lauded collections, and earning a nomination for the inaugural LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize, Dublin-born, London-based designer Simone Rocha is living in the now. Speaking from her new studio in the East End amid preparations for her collaboration with denim giant J Brand, Rocha, who arrived in London in 2008 for the master’s course at Central Saint Martins, found her new surroundings to be “a completely different landscape, to say the least.” The 27-year-old quickly emerged from fashion’s youthquake epicenter with a fully matured vision and debuted her first collection of deconstructed separates with the talent incubator Fashion East in 2011. But what brought Rocha to the forefront of the London scene—in addition to the covetable Perspex-heeled brogues that landed her on the shelves of Opening Ceremony, Colette, and Dover Street Market‚ is her knack for remixing tech fabrics, PVC, and Irish heritage crafts with a subversive gender mash-up of distinctive feminine and masculine shapes (think oversize tomboyish jackets rendered in lace), tapping into an intellectual, ladylike cool. “It’s always about creating a tension—between masculinity and femininity, or hard and soft, or natural and man-made,” she explains.
It’s clear that for Rocha, who gets inspiration as easily from the day-to-day of her native country (from “the sea or someone selling vegetables out of a pram,” she says) as from the textile work of Louise Bourgeois and Japanese erotic photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, alchemizing opposing forces is at the core of her process. But Rocha finds the real women in her life—her friends, her mother, Odette, and her Irish and Chinese grannies, “strong women with femininity”—the main catalyst for her designs. Those women anchored her fall 2014 collection, which took its cue from an exhibit of Elizabethan-era paintings Rocha took in at London’s National Portrait Gallery.
“It was so still, but it was so strong. Even though it was decorative, I thought it felt quite cool. It didn’t feel dated. That felt powerful to me,” she reflects. The strength she recognized—translated into voluminous, rounded silhouettes echoing the period’s farthingales and doublets, exaggerated, sculptural hips, snakeskin-printed embossed leather, tartan frocks with cut-outs and tulle insets, liberal use of faux fur, and a succession of erotically charged pink-and-red-checked transparent dresses—spiked the Simone Rocha gamine with a punkish rebellion.
“It’s always pushing forward,” Rocha says of her vision. “But it will always have the same soul.”
Click here to see the 10 things Simone Rocha just can’t live without.