Frock star

Hand­craft is at the heart of Simone Rocha’s stu­dio, as re­vealed in a new tome that goes be­hind the scenes of Lon­don’s top de­sign­ers.

VOGUE Australia - - Vogue Mood -

To step over the thresh­old of Simone Rocha’s stu­dio dur­ing Lon­don fash­ion week is to see that things might be get­ting a lit­tle crowded around here at De Beau­voir Cres­cent. On the left-hand side of her stu­dio, tem­po­rar­ily screened off, is a long row of girls perched on high stools em­broi­der­ing, stitch­ing and click­ing fig­ures into com­put­ers. On the op­po­site side of the screen there is Rocha, dress­ing a cou­ple of highly in-de­mand mod­els who’ve found their way di­rect to East Lon­don overnight from New York for her show fit­ting. The space is packed with rolling racks of sam­ples, ta­bles laden with Per­spex-heeled shoes, granny bags, chan­de­lier ear­rings, fake-fur stoles and gloves. Rocha stands back, watches, puts her head on one side, goes in to smooth fab­ric, nods her de­ci­sions. Her mother, Odette Rocha, hands things in and out without a word: hems to turn up, trim­mings to tack, sleeves to chop off. It’s like watch­ing a piece of chore­og­ra­phy.

“It’s al­ways been about how I’ve seen clothes, my school uni­form, all the teenage uni­forms, think­ing about how women dress, and al­ways be­ing at­tracted to clas­sic fem­i­nin­ity, but in an odd way,” Rocha says. Over time, Simone Rocha col­lec­tions have tuned into a fre­quency – her quirky love for slightly for­mal oc­ca­sion wear that can also be messed up as day­wear – that has been picked up and cher­ished by girls, women and re­tail­ers. Which other de­signer has been able to make pink, lace, cro­chet and flouncy full-skirted dresses wholly ac­cept­able to fem­i­nists? “I like to work in tai­lor­ing, mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine – it’s all about a con­trast. It’s very per­sonal. There’s al­ways lace and cro­chet and hand­craft some­where in it. But I like syn­thet­ics. Plas­tics, too.”

Liv­ing in the mid­dle of an ex­tended clan of women and girls get­ting dressed for im­por­tant fam­ily gath­er­ings in church and at re­cep­tions and par­ties shaped all her sig­na­tures: her dresses with high waists and full skirts, roomy coats, white lace Com­mu­nion dresses, black mourn­ing suits, the oc­ca­sional hats that hint at ha­los, or red flower-printed bro­cades sug­gest­ing Chi­nese New Year cel­e­bra­tions. “I def­i­nitely think if you’re wear­ing a huge frock, it’s just cooler to put it with a boy’s shoe, though,” she says with a laugh. “And if you’re go­ing out, then you can dance bet­ter, too.”

That mag­i­cal mix of al­lu­sive, po­etic mem­ory and girl-friendly prag­ma­tism runs through ev­ery­thing she touches. Her break­through col­lec­tion, the one that got her se­ri­ously rated by crit­ics in au­tumn/win­ter ’13/’14, was based on the very dif­fer­ent clothes worn by her grand­moth­ers, Ce­cilia Rocha on the Chi­nese side and Mar­garet Glee­son on the Ir­ish. She called it Re­spect Your El­ders.

Her nar­ra­tive grew even more pow­er­fully res­o­nant when she had her baby daugh­ter, sur­pris­ing and de­light­ing her au­di­ence with a col­lec­tion that touched on the full spec­trum of a new mother’s ex­pe­ri­ence – from fleshy pinks to fluffy dress­ing gowns, to nurses’ uni­forms and swad­dling baby blan­kets. “When I’m de­sign­ing it has to mean some­thing to me, oth­er­wise it’s just clothes. That’s al­ways the joy of it, when things come to­gether, and it means some­thing so per­sonal to me – that and shar­ing all the highs and lows with my loved ones.” This an ex­tract from Lon­don Up­ris­ing: Fifty Fash­ion De­sign­ers, One City, edited by Ta­nia Fares and Sarah Mower (Phaidon, $140).

Simone Rocha on the run­way. Right: the Phaidon re­lease takes you in­side the stu­dios of Lon­don de­sign­ers.

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