What do you do when you’re an independent designer on the verge of a collaboration with a global megabrand? If you’re Simone Rocha, the latest designer to translate her signatures for the masses with the help of H&M, you do a completely U-turn and make a collection that sits at the zenith of high fashion, resplendent with one-of-a-kind fabrics and dressmaking techniques that could never be replicated on a mass scale. The Irish designer’s AW21 collection, titled ‘The Winter Roses’, is exactly that. Each and every look has the presence of skilled handcraft and textural opulence. Leather is hand-sculpted into hourglass silhouettes, satin and tulle is swirled into blossoming fabric roses, and hand-embroidered silks and wallpaper-floral prints are spliced together to create tapestry-like dresses. These are clothes that aren’t just special; they’re so beautiful that you don’t want to hide them away in a wardrobe, but hang them from a wall and cherish the sight of their breathtaking intricacy.
“Personally, it made me want to push my own creativity and really push it forward and challenge myself to make very sculptural, visceral clothes with a real hand-detail,” explains Simone of her moment in the spotlight. “It was what I felt I needed, post-H&M, and the fact that we’re doing it without people there, we’ve put everything into the garments.”
Even in lieu of a physical show, Simone didn’t reserve any of her trademark storytelling. Her collection very much has a beginning, middle and end. It all started with the rose in her back garden that has survived all odds of winter, blossoming away in the darkness. And just like roses, those floral symbols of femininity, Simone’s collection has thorns, too — “fragile rebels,” was how she put it. It begins with a suite of black leather looks, biker jackets sculpted into whittled-waist, full-skirted silhouettes. “I was thinking of clothes in a protective and practical way, which brought me to the leather and taking something very protective and seeing how I could manipulate it into something more feminine,” she explains.
Then, it veers towards tapestry-like dresses, made from pleated fabrics spliced together and ornately embroidered with illustrative motifs — all designed to come away at certain parts, fastened in unusual spots, demanding the wearer to engage with the garment. “All these interior fabrics, almost like bad haberdashery, gave a sense of home, place and wallpaper — but because they’re all tapestried together it makes them feel displaced, which we all can’t help feeling at the moment.”
Also in the mix are school uniforms: crisp white shirts, deconstructed pinafore aprons, lunchbox-style bags, chunky rubber-soled brogues. Who doesn’t miss the regimental ritual of getting dressed in a formal uniform? Least so working mums, like Simone, who have been grappling with home-schooling. “I was craving order because everything is disordered,” she points out. And then, of course, the show finishes with a sugary cloud of candyfloss froufrou. After a handful of khaki cottons bejewelled and sculpted into floral rosettes, the collection ended with a crescendo of acres of embroidered tulle and cloqué puffed up and sculpted into petal-pink roses, transparently layered over shirts. The structured leather has slowly softened into nappa, the opaqueness of cotton and satin mellowed into wisps of sheerness.
Isn’t it joyous to see fashion that tells us a story? And even more so, seeing clothes that bear the marks of skilled hands? “T’was important not to rest on our laurels,” Simone added.
Soon, the world will be able to own a piece of Simone Rocha courtesy of H&M, but this was in another league; the peak of the fashion pyramid. She may not have thousands of her own stores around the world, but Simone still has a handful, in London, New York and Hong Kong. “When people go to our stores, I hope they have an incredible surprise — or even if we’re not open, when it comes through the letter box from ordering online, I want them to say ‘Wow!’” Indeed, they may even be speechless.