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Backstage at Simone Rocha AW17Photography Jacob Lillis

Simone Rocha on female strength (at every age)

Alongside a preview of images captured by documentary photographer Jacob Lillis, the designer discusses the power of women and this season’s striking casting

Of the series of phrases which made up Simone Rocha’s AW17 press release, one stood out in particular: The Marching Roses. Suggestive both of war, battle, strength and resolve on the one hand, and beauty, femininity, and softness on the other, the words encapsulated the duality of Rocha’s collection and her design vocabulary. “My work has always been very driven by this idea of contrasts – whether it’s masculinity and femininity, hard and soft,” she said after the show, which was styled by Dazed’s creative director Robbie Spencer. “In particular, this season I was really focused on this idea of protection and armour, but contrasted against fragility.”

The collection was captured backstage by documentary photographer Jacob Lillis, who, though most often found shooting sepia-hued images of working class Britain’s streets, pubs and people, has worked with Rocha since they met five years ago. “We had a really strong connection and I asked if he would document my work,” Rocha explains. “It’s so interesting because when you make clothes it’s such a physical thing, but for people to see it it has to be captured. I just felt Jacob’s sensitivity and his documentation, to me, is so timeless. He’s very much become a part of my creative process.”

“It’s amazing to have people walking their very first show with someone for whom it might be their very last show. But they all felt like they should be there” – Simone Rocha 

In Lillis’s images of this season, the floral motifs and prettiness that we’ve come to expect from the London-based designer are all present – but so is a harder edge. A sense of the militaristic was a response to what Rocha called our “perplexing times” – times where women are acutely aware of the threats posed to them by an increasingly hostile world. This manifested in the collection’s elements of armour – khaki green velvet, belted, WW2-style four pocket jackets with epaulettes, crossed over the chest with thick leather straps, and braids like aiguillettes, skimming around shoulders. One dress came with a padded vest over the top like body armour, only shaped from flowers.

For the past couple of seasons, Rocha has been exploring the idea of motherhood, and this collection felt like a tribute to the resourcefulness and strength of women at different stages of their lives. This found its way into the casting, where new face models followed some of the industry’s great legends, still as beautiful today as in their twenties. There was Jan de Villeneuve, a Vogue cover girl of the 60s and 70s, and Peter Lindbergh favourite Marie-Sophie Carr, as well as ‘great beauty’ who ditched modelling for Marxism, Benedetta Barzini.

“I was thinking a lot about mothers and daughters and granddaughters and all the different type of women who can embody the idea of femininity, so it just felt really nice to be able to reflect that in the casting and to be able to use such inspirational women like Benedetta or Marie-Sophie, who in their own time had such personal presence and style,” Rocha said, before noting the different generations who pass her London store and recently-opened New York boutique. “It’s amazing to have people walking their very first show with someone for whom it might be their very last show. But, at the same time, they all felt like they should be there.”