Simone Rocha has always celebrated femininity. But for spring 2020, it was Irish wren boys — crowds of “punkish” young boys in straw hats celebrating the hunting of the wren during Ireland’s St. Stephen’s day by dancing, singing and knocking on doors to ask for money — that got her imagination running. It prompted her to explore some new territory and bring in stronger hints of masculinity in her new range, presented at the North London theater, Alexandra Palace.
Cue loose jacquard suits, an array of all-black tailored looks and a bigger focus on outerwear. The rebellious, tribal energy of the wren boys was also referenced throughout with straw harnesses layered over the dresses, and feathers painted on the models’ foreheads, who stomped around the circular theatre to reflect the way wren boys would dance in circles.
“They are a real Irish tribe, very bold and even a bit scary,” Rocha related backstage. “I wanted to do something that I felt very connected to, that’s why I started thinking about Ireland and looking at imagery of the wren boys that led to so many different conversations with people who would say, ‘Oh my god, yeah, these little sh–ts.'”
But Rocha wasn’t willing to completely let go of her saccharine, feminine aesthetic just yet. She appliquéd diaphanous organza layers over some of the suits, added lace borders on loose poplin shirts and embroidered giant crystals on the hems of trousers. It made for an intriguing tension, which was also reflected in accessories that melded punk spikes with romantic pearls, as well as show music that oscillated between war-like to soft and melodic, creating many an emotional crescendo.
Elsewhere, Rocha turned her attention to the houses whose doors the wren boys knock on and dreamt up what they might look like inside. This translated into a series of wallpaper like prints, applied on tiered tulle midi skirts and puff-sleeve jackets, but also on a series of more sleek maxidresses featuring cleaner lines or cocoon shapes.
The latter offered a welcome addition of newness, to complement Rocha’s more recognizable shapes.