By  on December 1, 1994

LONDON -- John Rocha is still feeling the excitement of his first season on the Paris runways. Now he can't wait until March. The designer was delighted by the reception of his spring show, which generally had good reviews from international buyers and even from the notoriously xenophobic French press.

Rocha, 41, went to Paris with cautious expectations, but says all of them were surpassed. "It surprised me how well it went," he says. "We had tremendous interest from Far Eastern retailers, from such French stores as Galeries Lafayette and Kashiyama, and even from major American stores, which said they will look at us next season."

Galeries Lafayette will roll out Rocha's collection to eight of its stores next spring, the designer notes, and Kashiyama ordered for the first time. After the show, Rocha also sold to Joseph in Paris.

His Paris show seems to have done what Rocha wanted: to raise the international profile of his business. The company's current sales of $9.42 million (6 million pounds) a year are split about 70 percent women's wear and 30 percent men's wear.

Shortly before the October show, the designer parted company with his long-time backer, Ireland's Brown Thomas retail group, to go out on his own with financing from European venture capital. "I am now in control of my own destiny," says Rocha, who will continue to design a diffusion collection, Chinatown, for Brown Thomas. "When you've been designing as long as I have, it's a nice feeling. You also learn to make sure you never lose control again."

After a successful first season in Paris, the laid-back Rocha doesn't plan anything dramatically different for fall. He does, however, intend to increase his presence in the French capital by showing his men's wear collection there in late January.

Rocha -- a Hong Kong native who has lived in Dublin since 1980 except for '88-'90, when his previous business closed and he worked in Milan -- is known for his Celtic-inspired designs mixed with funkier styles. For spring, he showed ethereal dresses and tops with handpainted swirls, meant to suggest a windswept Irish Sea, as well as neon bright jackets and skirts."I do what I do," he says with a shrug, "but Paris makes me feel that I have to be more grown-up about it now." He stresses that his designs aren't simply a modern interpretation of Celtic legends. Rocha insists he would go mad if he spent all his time in Ireland, as much as he loves that country's mystery, roughness -- and soccer. "For the person I am, I need to see more than just rugged countryside," he says. "I get my influences from all the different places I travel, not simply Ireland. That's what makes my collection modern."

"In our business, people are too worried about becoming stars," Rocha says. "They don't realize that design is only a part of the industry and that, without the other parts, it wouldn't work. I don't want to be a star, but simply make a contribution to fashion."

That's why he made the switch to Paris in the first place. Rocha, who was named the British Designer of the Year in October 1993, admits he wouldn't have been ready to show there earlier in his career. But this is the right time, and he's taking his chance. "We certainly aren't saying we took Paris by storm this season," Rocha admits, "but we didn't flop, either. The response was very enthusiastic. It's up to us to do well from here on."

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