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Simone Rocha

The Perspex-loving designer on Irish rituals and respecting your elders

Interview taken from the April issue of Dazed & Confused:

In just a few years, Simone Rocha has developed and refined a new kind of aesthetic. It is one that is routed in simple processes: the fabrication of her designs and the deconstruction and consequent reconstruction of her garments. In many ways, Rocha is constantly re-editing her own work. In the past she has left the inside of her garments exposed, choosing to work with sheer fabrics and play with levels of transparency. But there is also a gender aspect to her work. Rocha reappropriates and challenges the traditional associations attached to masculine and feminine garments, perhaps taking a men’s brogue and attaching a neon Perspex heel or using lace to construct a masculine jacket. As we sit around her newly built Perspex desk in her studio in Dalston, it is clear that despite her recent success and fashion roots (her father is designer John Rocha), she is intent on keeping it simple as she establishes her own brand identity.

For your recent Dover Street Market window display, you didn’t use garments, only living flowers, so it felt like a representation of what Simone Rocha stands for. How did you approach that project? 
That’s exactly what I wanted to say. I’m a fashion designer, but I’m hugely inspired by art and sculpture. That’s what I find really exciting: the balance of that, and how it can influence clothes. When you’re wearing something in a certain location, it changes it. The backdrop of my SS13 collection was inspired by my youth. There was this overgrown lane behind my house in Dublin that I used for the invite picture. Everyone in the neighbourhood used to hang out there – you know, it was the place where you smoked your first fag. With the window display, I wanted to create a piece and a feeling. Something totally unrelated and yet fitting to the collection. We made it all in-house here in the studio, from knitting to flower arranging. It was a big undertaking, but I wanted to convey the spirit of the collection, and of spring: something fresh, young and wild.

Were you interested in the idea that the flowers will start to decay and that it is essentially an ephemeral piece of work?
Definitely – it was very much a part of it. We wanted it to decay, but in a beautiful way. To keep evolving.

Are you conscious of exploring the masculine-feminine dynamic in your designs?
It happens naturally. If anything starts getting oversaturated with femininity, I just naturally think I need to add something masculine. The collection started with really feminine dresses, so I thought, ‘Okay, we need to use the fabric to also make a trouser’ – it needed an undercurrent. I’m always looking at both girls and boys, always. Womenswear and menswear, pictures of lads, teenagers, even though I’m doing womenswear. It’s really important to me. I’m attracted to quite feminine fabrics, a lot of lace, and then giving them a harder edge and bringing in masculine details.

You cite Louise Bourgeois as a big influence...
I love her.

Her work also has that kind of gender dynamic.
Her work is so sensitive, even when it’s crude, grotesque or strong. I find that really inspiring and a constant influence. Years ago, my mum introduced me to her work, which is symbolic because (Bourgeois’) work is inspired by her parents. I got to visit her little house in New York after she had passed and was absolutely blown away. There were all these little drawings... Her work is so witty, so smart, but crude at the same time. She also always looked amazing. There is a photo of her in a Helmut Lang monkey- fur coat, with Mapplethorpe... Have you seen videos of her? She just doesn’t give a shit.

Yes, she was very feisty.
Exactly. It’s so funny how you end up being really inspired by women. I love that. The people that really inspire me are my mum, Louise and Rei Kawakubo.

They are not necessarily masculine women, But they do have a kind of power to them.
There is a strength – they don’t look strong but...

They’re Strong through their work and their language. 

You’re obsessed by fabrics and texture. Is that always the starting point?
The fabrication is really important. It’s one of the first factors in the design. I like mixing modern and heritage fabrics, like Perspex and plastic with Linton tweed. I’ve always used tulle because it’s see-through – it’s all about mixing that with harder fabrics. My whole MA collection was based just on the contrast between black tulle and wool. I love contrasting the really natural with the modern, so it’s neither super-technical nor organic. It’s about the balance. I also do a lot of hand-knit and crochet in the studio; all of my collections have a little bit of handwork.

There are always elements of transparency and deconstruction in the fabrics you use. Why?
It’s just innate, and runs throughout my work. There are gender-specific rules for garments that everyone knows, so as a designer, it’s about how to make things more interesting, and it usually ends up as a deconstruction, then reconstruction. It’s a running joke in the studio that everything is see-through, so no one’s going to be able to wear anything. It is like a sixth sense. It feels more balanced and more interesting to me if something is a little off.Maybe it’s a sensitive thing – when you do a collection yourself, under your own name, it is exposing. So I think exposure is inherent to the collection. I don’t want to get all hippy-dippy about it: ‘Oh, I’m so exposed – I can see a lapel.’

You often reference Ireland, as with the use of veils and mourning rituals in your graduate collection...
I cannot help but always reference Ireland because it’s where I’m from, and it has such a rich heritage. I find it so inspiring all the time, from the kids who wander the streets in their pyjamas to my granny’s mass cards that inspired all the veils. Irish funerals are phenomenal, and so traditional. Even this season, if I am inspired by geese in Barbados, at the same time in my head I ask, ’But what would my granny wear?’ I think it’s a very sensitive subject to me because I’m an emotional worker; I feel a part of every garment, so all those bits of my heritage just go into them.

How do you start designing a new season?
There are always lots of books involved, because I’m very visual. Last season I was looking at a lot of Ed Templeton’s work. The Saatchi Gallery had a big photography exhibition and I saw his Teenage Kissers book in the shop. I absolutely loved it, and that was the starting point.

Is there a youth-culture aspect that continues to interest you?
I think so. Also, because I’m young. You know how today so many designers reference kids from the 90s? That was me, I wore the parachute pants. It’s nice to design with youthful feeling, and I love all the rebellious- ness and mistakes you make when you’re young; I think that’s really important for your personality, and I like working that into the collection. But at the same time, I am more like, ‘Oh, jeez, I’d love it if Louise Bourgeois wore that coat.’

What are your references for AW13?
I’ve been thinking about my grannies. I went to Hong Kong and saw my Chinese granny, and then started thinking about my Irish granny, and that was the beginning of this collection. I also look at a huge amount of photographers, but especially ones that have a realistic streak. What starts the process is something relatable to me that I find inspiring, and then I make it all into a little story. Last year, the theme was very youthful, rebellious, and naive. This season it’s going to be a bit more respectful, because it’s about my grannies – and you have to respect your elders.