Star of the show: How Simone Rocha’s designs dominated Fashion Week

Paul McLauchlan reports from London Fashion Week on the designer who stole the show: Simone Rocha – the most important name in Irish fashion.

If there’s one thing to know about Irish fashion in 2019, it’s that Simone Rocha is the most important name in the mix.

The Dublin-born designer has secured a place for herself amongst the highest ranking designers at London Fashion Week. She is part of a new establishment of designers who have attracted the international press and buyers to London in the 2010s.

Rocha presented her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection at London Fashion Week last Saturday evening. In the grand enclaves of the Royal Academy of Arts, her fan base — or acolytes, depending on your viewpoint —- gathered around to watch women including the actress Chloe Sevigny, as well as former models Lily Cole and Marie Sophie Wilson taking to the runway in starry procession of delicate tulle dresses, body casings, and spiderweb detailing.

Simone Rocha’s collection on the catwalk at London Fashion Week.
Simone Rocha’s collection on the catwalk at London Fashion Week.

Simone Rocha is the daughter of John Rocha, the Irish-Hong Kong designer who charmed the fashion industry in the 1980s. Rocha suspended his own venture a few years ago but helps Simone with business planning. She studied fashion design at the National College of Art & Design before progressing to the MA Womenswear programme in the hallowed halls of London’s Central Saint Martins.

Years after graduating, Rocha has built an exponentially growing business and she’s nailed a feminine whimsy that exudes a vulnerable ethereality and boasts darkly romantic qualities.

Along the way, Rocha has received recognition and awards from the international fashion press, making her show one of the most popular tickets at London Fashion Week.

In 2016, she was honoured with the Womenswear Designer of the Year award.

Her approach connects with women because of its honesty: Past themes have included the sensory experience of the first few weeks of pregnancy; a sombre, postpartum poetry; the strength and fragility of being a woman today; amongst a whole host of references to her Irish upbringing and her Hong Kong heritage —Holy Communion dresses, funerary lace; and now, an exploration of femaleness through the ages.

The inspiration for AW19 began with the artist Louise Bourgeois, whose work she has long admired. The spider-web pattern, for example, was a loose interpretation of Bourgeois’ ‘Spider’ sculpture, something the artist related to motherhood — a recurring theme in Rocha’s work. Similarly, the tactility referenced Bourgeois’ material sculptures.

And those vinyl coats with rounded shoulders? Perhaps a nod to Bourgeois’ interest in fetishism.

The most striking look was a gold sequined full-skirted dress, recognisably Rocha in silhouette, but such unabashed glamour has never hit her runway before. Ditto the icy shades of blue and bulbous skirts.

This subtle progression is essential for the designer who has built a career on a signature aesthetic.

One doesn’t come to a Simone Rocha show expecting to question fashion as we have come to know it or to come away with a sense of new world order: one exits a Simone Rocha show with a greater understanding of the designer’s psyche and her musings on femaleness. What distinguishes Rocha from her contemporaries is a compelling sense of self-awareness but also an awareness of those around her.

Now, more than ever, fashion is in dire need of emotion or else it’s just stuff.

Rocha, for one, provides it by the bucketload.

The response from the fashion press was unanimous.

“Words cannot describe how beautiful it was,” said one.

“The pictures don’t do it justice,” chimed another.

With two flagship stores in London and New York, as well as a host of other stockists globally, Rocha’s only Irish stockist is Havana in Donnybrook, Co Dublin. Nikki Creedon, founder and buying director of Havana, said: “We are huge fans of Simone and have built a huge fan base for her beautiful clothes.

“There is now a very well-priced side to the collection. But it’s the special pieces that create the excitement. Thankfully, we sell the collection really well and have stocked it from day one — we’re currently are experiencing our best season sell-through yet. We’re incredibly excited for next season. She’s my personal favourite designer which makes it easier to sell,” she says, adding: “her jewellery is now also really big so there is a price point to have something of Simone for everyone.”

What a delight.

Meet the Irish stars of London Fashion Week

As well as Simone Rocha, there were plenty of names flying the flag for Irish fashion. The star of the show was Richard Malone from Wexford bright and early on Monday morning. Malone’s main focus is sustainability, working with organic and recycled fabrics. Inspired by a child’s party, retro paper plates informed the prints; the colours borrowed inspiration from ‘bad, mum lipstick’ and street party flags. Once again, he delighted his audience.

Also on Monday morning, Dublin’s Paul Costelloe did what he did best — occasion-dressing with a 1960s sensibility.

Sharon Wauchob from Fermanagh presented men’s and women’s in an intimate appointment-only format. Jonathan Anderson, the Derryman behind JW Anderson, delivered another exceptional men’s and women’s show.

Earlier in the weekend, Natalie B Coleman, from Monaghan launched a collaboration with the United Nationals Population Fund which commemorated the 25th anniversary of women’s sexual and reproductive health as a right.

Katie Ann McGuigan, Newry, was inspired by female Japanese biker gangs, called Bosozoku. Her palette was an explosion of colour and print. “It was an entirely new direction for me,” she said.

Kerryman Colin Horgan, whose designs have caught the eye of Lady Gaga, was the last show of LFW. His theatrical pieces evoked the artwork of John Chamberlain, taking cues from car parts.

Last but not least, she mightn’t be a designer but Irish stylist Celestine Cooney was responsible for executing the visions of top designers Simone Rocha and Preen by Thornton Bregazzi. In most cases, it’s the stylist who creates what you what you see on the runway. Her talent is unmistakable.

To echo the words of Katie Ann McGuigan, “I think it’s going to be a good year for Irish design.”

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