Irish fashion designer Simone Rocha has been in business for 10 years. This week she presented her Fall 2021 collection as part of London Fashion Week. And on March 12, a long-awaited collaboration with H&M will hit the stores. As part of a special Fashion Week series, she spoke to The New York Times from her studio in East London.
This interview has been edited.
Elizabeth Patan You presented your latest collection this week, but London Fashion Week was a completely digital experience. What are the bigger differences than putting on physical fashion shows?
Simon Rocha Given the current lockdown in London, there were challenges. We only had eight models to show 32 looks, but I still wanted to approach it as I would do any collection. I wanted it to have a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. And I really wanted to give a sense of place.
So I staged a show – which had no audience, of course – in a Gothic church near Hyde Park with amazing stained glass windows. Considering that we would be shooting all day, I thought it would be good to do it somewhere with the windows so that you can see the time from morning to afternoon and then in the evening.
EP You touched on the idea of winter roses as an inspiration.
SR Yes. I was inspired by this idea of its strength and fragility. You have the fragility of petals, but then also the thorns, which make me think of rebellious spirits and fragile rebels. I did a lot of work in leather, which I carved into more feminine shapes – actually with the hips and hips. But then slowly it breaks to a fragility beneath the entire collection, which are these embroidered flowers on tulle and net.
I have not worked with leather before, but I always do a lot of historical research and like to look at clothes historically. I like to see a completely different type of garment, such as a leather biker jacket, with its meaning and symbols and I can see how I can translate it in my own way.
EP Does the design process change when you are approaching something that is not being seen as part of a physical runway show?
SR From the beginning, we knew that we would not be able to show physically. It made me want to make the garments really tactile and physical and manipulate the constructions so much that they almost got impacted through the screen.
It was really important for me to take the handwork to another level. By the end, we were hand painting roses on pearls for jewelry – things you can only see really close. But we knew they were there, and I wanted people to realize that gut and feel it at hand. It inspired me and my team to go further, I think.
EP Do you remember the runway fashion show?
SR I really miss it. I miss the energy that comes from it. I miss everyone working on something together. I feel the energy, the smell, the light, the excitement in your bones in the room. So I would like to go back to a show.
But I think it will be a very different kind of show. I think it would be more focused on intimacy, but at the same time, be more aware of the need to share things with people who are not physically there. I learned how important it is when you are sharing in 2-D that there are still feelings behind this show.
EP This year you are celebrating your 10th anniversary in business, and you have the H&M collaboration, which will launch on 11 March.
SR This is a real milestone, and the collaboration feels like a serious opportunity to share my signature with a wider audience. I am also breaking new ground by wearing men’s and children’s clothes. I felt that if I was going to do something on that scale, I wanted to do it for real people. Almost equal for everyone in a family.
Especially with the kids wear, it was absolute enjoyable and really joyful to go through all my collections and see the pieces that I felt would be great for the kids. I have a daughter of my own, and I wanted to make sure that the collection was beautiful, but also a reality running through it.
EP Do the views differ when you are doing it at a more affordable price or for children, given that your focus is on luxury and craftsmanship in general?
SR Absolutely, and especially with children. I do a lot of embellishments, and suddenly my focus was here on what children can swallow and what to fall into. It was a big learning curve, but wonderful to take on a new challenge.
EP When a designer decides to have this kind of collaboration, there are difficult issues to navigate around consistency and accessibility. How do you do that?
SR My business is independent. I have three stores of my own and a relatively small footprint. I don’t have thousands of stores like H&M, so this was something I was very conscious of. But I did not want to belittle the customer. I wanted to make sure that they are achieving something that I am proud of, which can sit alongside my Simone Rocha collection.
And honestly, I learned a lot from H&M from a sustainability standpoint. My clothes are woven or made in bespoke batches, and we hand embroider a lot of them. We have really worked hard with their fabric teams to see how we can translate that en wart. He said that of all his designer collaborations this is the most durable. I am really proud of her.