fashion designer, London
interview by CAROLINE GAIMARI
photography by HARRY CARR
style by ERIKA KURIHARA
CAROLINE GAIMARI — You show two times a year in London, but there is something about your collection that isn’t so “London.”
SIMONE ROCHA — I never really feel like my collection is very “London,” and I would say that even though we are here working out of East London, we could be anywhere. I love living here, my team is here, but when I do a collection, I don’t think about London. It would be the exact same collection if I showed in Paris or in New York or in Tibet.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Is traveling an important part of your process?
SIMONE ROCHA — I really get inspired by traveling. My dad [fashion designer John Rocha] is from Hong Kong, so I go there at least once a year. That’s an unbelievably inspiring place to me. From the outside, it looks like a big flashy city. But when I go, I stay with my aunts and uncles there — all they do is gamble and eat. It’s quite hardcore! I like to watch the elderly people who are fully dressed up on the streets, and they look amazing, wearing clashing prints and getting their nails done. It’s not super-refined, but there’s an effort to look done up, which is wonderful to watch.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Would you say that your native Ireland is an influence to you?
SIMONE ROCHA — I was born and bred in Dublin and moved to London eight years ago to do my MA [Master of Arts]. In Ireland, there are no hipsters and no trying to be cool. There is a passionate history filled with poetry and art, and people don’t take themselves too seriously. I go back to Ireland all the time. The landscape is so beautiful and rural. It’s an amazing place.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — You see a lot of Irish crafting influences in your collections.
SIMONE ROCHA — I crochet. I learned when I was a kid, and I would crochet loads in my dad’s studio. I am really into things being handmade. We do loads of our craftsmanship here, including our beading motifs and knitwear.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Your collections seem solidly anchored between vintage and handmade and the technical and new.
SIMONE ROCHA — I’ve always been drawn to highlighting the contrast between natural fibers and the man-made stuff — like jewels on wool, for example. As a designer, mixing the natural with the technological is what’s the most interesting to me. Every collection has to have that balance. I always want to fuse the two together — that is what drives the collections for me. I did a book called Flowers and Cars, which was also the imagery around a recent collection: the cover was flowers — the natural — within a car engine — the man-made — and I think that’s quite a good statement about my collections in general. This car is now an installation in my shop in London, but with dried flowers.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Do you like the business side of running a brand?
SIMONE ROCHA — More than I had anticipated. I was terrible in school; I’m horrible with numbers. But I’ve learned to love building the strategy behind my own fashion business, everything from developing a product and fabrics to getting the collections into stores. I’m focused on what I want, and I am clear with my team, so I think it’s been quite easy to get people to jump on board with me. My family has been in the fashion business for years, and I’ve been around the industry for my whole life. My mom is my partner, and we work together on strategy in terms of where we can improve and what our next steps will be.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — You’ve had to grow up so quickly!
SIMONE ROCHA — I can see how serious the business side has to be, and so I don’t allow myself to get carried away in the fantastic side because I know where the focus needs to be. I like to have a hand in everything and to see my brand grow internationally, so I’ve actually enjoyed getting more serious at the office. In my personal life outside of the office, I try to keep my life laid-back, going to the pub with friends and not trying to go to social events every night. I used to be more wild, but as the responsibility of having my own company has become more serious, I’ve had to follow suit. But the wild side is still in there!
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Do you have a hard time relinquishing parts of your process to other people?
SIMONE ROCHA — Somewhat. For example, I started to work with a stylist last season — with Robbie Spencer. I design the collection in full looks to begin with. So, say we are going to start with a small flower motif, and then build into a bigger one, and then end with a certain motif, I visualize that in a way as I design the whole collection. The show run takes you on a journey in and of itself, and having an extra eye on that was an added benefit.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Do you map the collection out on a mood board?
SIMONE ROCHA — I don’t do a mood board every season. I have a seasonless one, which grows. Each collection is an evolution of a same idea that I am building on. For example, I’m obsessed with fresh flowers, and every season they are an inspiration for me. There is nothing that looks nicer than walking around town with a handful of flowers. I know I am always going to integrate flowers somehow or work with this one shade of pink. I think it’s very strange that some designers will present their mood board backstage as a sort of talking piece on the collection.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Would you say that your collection is youthful?
SIMONE ROCHA — I’m conscious that my collection can be a bit expensive — too expensive for teenagers. I like the collection to feel youthful in a free sense of personal styling, but I also strive to have older women see themselves being able to wear it, too. I’d like to think that it’s completely ageless and also timeless, never going out of fashion — the way that a Comme des Garçons or a Raf Simons piece is an amazing piece that you want to wear now and also keep for when you are 60.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Is that how you dress?
SIMONE ROCHA — These days, I wear a lot of muumuus — I like to be swaddled in fabric, and I do wear my own collections. Growing up, I was a total ’90s kid. I used to wear parachute pants, Kappa pants, and Adidas tracksuits. That’s part of the fashion moment now, and I don’t dislike it. My first show on the BFC [British Fashion Council] schedule focused on teenagers and their school uniorms, but not in a literal way. We would wear tracksuit bottoms underneath our school uniforms, so without taking that personal reference too literally, I made pants that would go with the skirts. I used to wear all my mom’s expensive dresses, pulled up, wearing sneakers or brogues. Now I would wear a poufy dress from my collection with a bomber on top and with sneakers.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Would you say that your collection is sexy?
SIMONE ROCHA — I don’t think it’s sexy. But I think it can be provocative. You can see a sliver of skin. I like to style the dresses with a kneesock because of what that invokes. I like nuances of perversion. It’s feminine in the secret provocation, not in the obvious tropes of “flowers” and “pink.” I’ve always wanted to twist or pervert the femininity, whether it’s peekaboo here on an extra slit, or like this time, there was beading on the boobs.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — What would you say has been the most vital building block in growing your label?
SIMONE ROCHA — My relationship with my stores has always been really important. At the beginning — and still now somewhat — I didn’t really get that much press. DSM [Dover Street Market] and Colette both bought the first collection, and it was so important to me to make sure I kept those two stores after that first season — to not just have them because I was “hot” or new. It made me so aware of the importance of delivering on time and making your quality on par with the brands you could end up hanging next to, whether it be Valentino or Comme des Garçons. From the very beginning, that was my focus. And that’s how we built the business. Also, I never did pre-collections, resort, cruise — and I’ve been adamant about keeping it to only two collections a year and doing those both really well and drop on time. There is loads of pressure to do pre-collections, but it seems crazy to stress out and do something diluted. This has helped me grow my business long-term instead of infusing cash straightaway.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — How did you meet Adrian Joffe from Comme des Garçons?
SIMONE ROCHA — After I did a little off-calendar show at this decrepit house in London, Vogue Italia asked me to do their talent showcase in Milan, and we reached out to Adrian at that point to come and see the collection. They came by there, and a few weeks later, he brought Rei Kawakubo by to see the collection in Paris. It was overwhelming — because she is really like a fashion god to me. We had a chat — which was really just a lot of nodding. Adrian really believed in the collection, and they became my first stockist, giving me a window in London. They let me design my own space within the DSM shop in London, then in the I.T. Beijing Market, and in New York. For the kind of fashion that I’m doing, they are the doyens of it. Their support made people see me in a different light. They gave me a huge amount of confidence to build my business.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Was this relationship to retail one of the reasons you opened your own shop?
SIMONE ROCHA — Besides DSM, when you are sold in the context of another shop, you really only have a limited space. It never represents the whole collection. I really wanted to give the collection a sense of place and put it in a cool environment. I wanted people to see it in a place where it would look its best, and to create a context where I could collaborate with cool people — like inviting an artist to come and hang art in the shop or doing window installations. Also, I’m on the same street as Céline and Marc Jacobs, so it’s important for me that my collection be on par with them, to strive to be just as good.
CAROLINE GAIMARI — Would you want to take on another house?
SIMONE ROCHA — I’ve been asked, but not by the right house, although it’s nice to be asked. I haven’t been asked by a house that would be worth sacrificing what I’ve built here. But, never say never. I’m only 29, and there is plenty of time to do that later. Right now, I’m happy to concentrate on building my own business. And I just had a baby, so I can barely even brush my teeth in the morning!
[Table of contents]
The Fall/Winter 2016/17 collections
by Craig McDean
Alex BecerraRead the article
by Gareth McConnell
by Jeff Rian
Taryn SimonRead the article
Julius von BismarckRead the article
by Bill Powers
by Olivier Zahm
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by Andreas Larsson
by Ren Hang
by Petra Collins
William N. CopleyRead the article
by Glenn O'Brien
by Jack Davison
by Jean De Loisy
David HorvitzRead the article
by Max Farago
by Simon Liberati
by Terry Richardson
Eric WahlforssRead the article
by Olivier Zahm
by Donatien Grau
by Katerina Jebb and Olivier Zahm
Justin Morin x Louis VuittonRead the article
by Oliver Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
Simone RochaRead the article
Tom Sachs’ Art Odyssey
by Alex Antitch
Giuseppe PenoneRead the article
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Y/ProjectRead the article
Gavin KenyonRead the article
by Casper Sejersen
Gianni MottiRead the article
High-speed Historical Accidents
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by Chikashi Suzuki
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