There’s hardly been a moment in Simone Rocha’s 28 years when she hasn’t been busy making something. “Even as a child, she was always creative. She actually started off as a singer, then she studied fine art, and then she discovered textiles,” said her designer father, John Rocha.
While he didn’t exactly warn her off fashion, he urged his middle child to tread carefully. “I told her from the start that, in fashion, it’s important to have your own voice — and that you have to have something to say.”
He needn’t have worried: Since she unveiled her first collection for fall 2010 at London Fashion Week, the young Rocha has been making her unique and powerful voice heard and treating customers worldwide to the joys of flower-embroidered plastic, Perspex heels, snakeskin-printed leather ruffles and scuba mesh.
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In 2013, she picked up the Emerging Talent Award at the British Fashion Awards ceremony in London, and on Dec. 1 of this year, she scooped up the New Establishment prize.
Her collections, which sell at stores including Dover Street Market, Browns, Selfridges, Ikram and Colette, are a study in opposites: Classic and avant-garde, hard and soft, sweet and sinister, all crafted using traditional and technical fabrics and finishes.
Rocha counts Louise Bourgeois and Francis Bacon among her abiding inspirations, the former because her work is “so personal, but everyone can relate to it,” and the latter for his “grotesque but powerful” work, according to Rocha.
She also takes cues from her Dublin childhood, which she described as “more arts and crafts than Champagne and parties.” She recalls wearing hand-me-downs, runway samples and bits and pieces from the wardrobe of her designer mother, Odette Rocha.
“It was communal dressing,” said Rocha, who shared pieces with her elder sister and younger brother. “I can remember one brown leather jacket with a mustard floral lining — it was passed down to every one of the siblings in the family,” she said.
Rocha showed her first collection the same year she graduated from the master’s program at Central Saint Martins, where she studied under the late, legendary course director Louise Wilson. She also holds a B.A. in fashion from The National College of Art and Design in Dublin.
Her fashion pedigree goes beyond that, however. Simone Rocha owns and runs the business with her mother Odette, a designer who had previously worked with John Rocha, the Hong Kong-born, Ireland-based designer. John Rocha runs a flourishing fashion, home wares and interior design business, and operates a stand-alone lifestyle store on Dover Street in London’s Mayfair. (Neither of Simone’s siblings works in the fashion industry.)
While her clothing may often embrace the fantastical — her spring collection was full of delicate, fluffy shoes meant more for the boudoir than the pavement —she’s always working with an everyday woman in mind.
“I always want the clothes to feel comfortable but still exciting,” said Rocha, adding that she prizes fabrics that move and sculptural shapes. To wit, she designs on a stand and with models rather than on paper.
For spring, she worked with delicate sheer pink and peach tulle — as in a transparent pink trench coat — but also with textured black cloque and shimmery gold and silver brocade.
Previous seasons have seen her conjure warrior queens wearing snakeskin-printed leathers and schoolgirls in scuba mesh and organza dresses and faux-pearl-embellished knee socks.
“I’m trying to create a whole world, a feeling and a strong identity,” Rocha has said. “I always want to move on and push each collection forward with the fabrication, the refinement and the creativity.
“I like the fact that the clothes can look a certain way on the runway, and then your hands can make more discoveries as they move over the fabric,” said Rocha, adding that she designs with longevity in mind. “It’s so important that the clothes are not trendy, that they have a life.”
Gleeson supports the business side of the company and acts as a consultant on the design and creative aspects of the brand. Rocha said there are no plans to take on new investors. She’s collaborating with J Brand for one season and said it has been an ideal project for her.
“I only ever want to do a collaboration where I can create something new and not just pop my name on a product. I like the fact that J Brand is a huge American brand, and I like the idea of denim’s history as workwear, a technical fabric,” she said.
Rocha also chose to collaborate with J Brand because it has allowed her to step into the contemporary space without having to commit to it.
Indeed, she said she wants to remain a fixture in the designer category. “I hang alongside brands like Comme des Garçons and Valentino” she said. “I’m in good company.”
Next up, to be unveiled in January, is a new installation for Dover Street Market New York that represents how Rocha mixes different fabrics. “It’s a really exciting time for me,” she said. “The future is bright — I hope.”