How Simone Rocha Became An Internationally Renowned Fashion Designer | i-D

How Simone Rocha Became An Internationally Renowned Fashion Designer | i-D

December 20, 2019 14 By Bernardo Ryan


The landscape of home influences me
in a very obvious way but also like, the people, the storytelling,
the history, the humour and those are the things that run through my work. She was a very, very happy child. She’d always sing, she’d always dance
and she did give us indications she’d do something creative. My latest show was the first time
I kind of went back to look at Ireland and how we could influence
a collection. I felt like I really wanted to do
something that felt very much from my roots. I grew up in Dublin but my father is
from Hong Kong and I moved to London twelve years ago. I’ve managed to make three cities
home because it’s the people that are in each of those cities and they
kind of make it home for me. My name is Simone Rocha. I am a fashion designer and
we are in my studio in London. Simone in London spends a huge amount
of time in this building. I live locally with my daughter
and my partner. In London, I’m so focused because every day
we’re doing something different. This is our sample room. This is where we do all our creative
cutting, so in the design studio we do all our fittings and then
the team comes back here and then it’s all translated into patterns
and then we work with machinists. So all our samples are made in-house. There is this energy and
a diversity that I think can only come from London. That breeds creativity. Which is different to growing
up in Dublin. For me, Dublin is home and it’s like
this raw earthiness that’s just in me and it’s funny and it’s realistic
and it’s very visceral. This is my family home. A huge amount of my influences come
from the fact that my father was a fashion designer and I grew up
very much in a creative home. It’s kind of funny, the house
being really quiet. Oh my God, I’m driving like a granny. My memory was always getting into the
car with my Dad, me and my brother, and we’d get a packet of crisps
and a magazine or a sticker book. And then coming up through the
Sally Gap and that was kind of our like Sunday outing. It is just a road but there’s an
amazing translucency to the landscape. The way the light falls in
and falls on the land and you can see it dappling it through,
and that’s something that I always want there to be –
a weightlessness but like a strength and a toughness to
what I do. I think you can kind of see that here
as well. My dad was born in Hong Kong but he
studied fashion in London in Croydon. And he actually did his degree using
Irish cloth and Donegal tweed and linens and when he came
he just, he loved it. My mum was from the countryside
and they met and actually started working together and kind of
just settled here. It’s really funny like when I grew
up in Ireland I didn’t even notice it but at the time there weren’t
lots of Chinese people. I don’t look like people from Hong
Kong but then walking around Ireland I don’t look like a person from
Ireland either. I’ve always felt very mixed race but
I’ve always felt very privileged, actually. I’ve always thought it’s made me
very comfortable in lots of different situations. I’ve always been interested in
contrasts and things that shouldn’t go together coming together
and making something new. I think that’s probably come from
being like Irish Chinese. The last trip me and Dad took was really special
because it was because we were opening a store in Hong Kong. I think it’s very important for me to
make my children aware of where we come from. Because where we come from is very
different than where we are today. I come from a council estate –
a very humble beginning, living in a three hundred square foot apartment
with ten of us. So I think to for them there to see that is where the journey
begins. So whatever I achieve or they achieve they will appreciate it more
and make them a bit more grounded. Simone is the one that was really
really into Hong Kong from day one. I think it’s very important for her
to have that belonging and I’m thrilled that she has that, you know? Hong Kong as a culture, the people, my family, it made a big
impact on her as a designer which is for me the big icing on
the cake. Because for me to really
bring them home to understand where I come from, but by doing that they are
actually giving something back to my family which is great. The fact that we went on this trip. Me and dad in the shop and to have
the two of us in there in his hometown and me and him are there
moving the furniture around. Being like, “no, maybe we should put the chair here, maybe we should put the collection
here”, it was a very special trip. I would document everything since
I was a kid. I was a serious nerd. I started going to dad’s shows
as much as I could and just was like a sponge. Dad would take all of
the Polaroids himself and then do all the line ups. So this was a fitting with Ikeliene who is like this amazing
model who I actually asked to come back and was in my show this season. When I was a kid, it’s
kind of known that I spent a lot of time in my dad’s studio All his atelier was downstairs
and then this was his room, which was the collection room
where he did all his designing. He did amazing fittings here and he
always used like Irish models. Yeah it was something that I really
loved being a part of and was there as much as possible rather than
being in school. I didn’t want to be a designer. I was like, “no, it’s going to
be such a cliché. It’s not what I want to do”. When I went to art college it
completely changed my life. I completely changed my perspective
on everything. So this is NCAD, National College of
Art and Design, where I went to do my B.A. in Art. It’s very physical. You just see people working with
their hands all the time, like ceramics, glass, jewellery. So it was always really interesting
and stimulating and it’s kind of really affected my process, in that
there’s a real physicality to what I do, and a cross-pollination of
different disciplines. I was just drawing flowers all day
long but like not good ones. I was looking at what I was doing
and I wasn’t that satisfied. And then I did the fashion
discipline and that’s when it completely clicked that I should do
design. I used to go up this street
every day to go to college. I used to wear all these neon
flowers in my hair. That they sell out on the street. I was very like, “I’ve got into
art college”. And now they’ve kind of changed from
selling fake flowers to these huge big bows where you see loads of
the girls in them. Thank you very much. Thanks very much. Want a little bag? Yes please. So I used to pass this shop
every single day and was always obsessed with all the communion dresses. I never
made my communion because I wasn’t brought up Catholic but actually
people always think that my collections have this feeling running through
them. Even like the colours.
Cream, red ivory. This is my Auntie Monica making
her communion in this amazing dress, where you can see all
the pleated lace in the front which is almost like an apron. I often reference these for my work. This is my grandparents wedding. But even the book is amazing
and you can even see the way the material is here, it’s got like
a really light embossed bow. I would see this and then I’d be
like, “OK, how can I translate this into a fabrication?” This is see-through on solid
but maybe we do solid on see-through, let’s embroider it on tulle. Even the way she’s holding
the bouquet here is amazing because it’s kind of
falling down. It’s quite dispersed. So even when I’m working with
fabrications we nearly never do a symmetrical pattern. It’s nearly always dispersed
and kind of playful and you can kind of see the way that happens here. This is our archive. I reference
a lot of my work, what I do, and I’m always evaluating it and kind of
re-educating myself on things I would have done differently, or could
I push it further or take it away more. So we actually
access this quite a lot and the design team are in and out
of here all the time. This was the kind of first
hand crochet piece I made which was part of my B.A. which was all
done inspired by Louise Bourgeois and her spider webs. And the whole
idea was that each crochet circle was like a web So this is IMMA. The Irish Museum of Modern Art. It’s the very first place that I saw the work of Louise Bourgeois. And it was all the
hanging tapestries. And I was completely blown away by
the fact it was textiles but had been seen as art. And that’s what I find really
stimulating about the fact that I had decided to study fashion
and I did my first degree collection inspired by her. In the end my degree final thing was a pair of pants,
a pair of knickers, that said cross stitch saying ‘Je t’aime’ on them, influenced by Louise Bourgeois work. I went over and interviewed for
Central Saint Martin’s with Louise Wilson where I brought the
pair of knickers that I had made. She was not impressed with
the construction of where I had left the seams in the crotch. She was like, “why should
this be here?” And I was like, “why is it there?” But yeah so now I’m like hiding it
from the shame. She was just like, “what is this?” And of course then all my research
that I brought into her was Irish and she was like, “I get it,
you’re Irish.” So I’d bring in like Perry Ogden’s ‘Pony Kids’ and
she’d be like, “yeah well this is so Raf Simons.” And I’m like, “yeah, well I was
f**king here when they f**king took the photos of the kids and
the ponies. So, you know, I don’t care if
Raf Simons does it, I was there. This feels really sincere to me.”
And she was like, “OK, OK.” And then the same like I was obsessed
with things like the Aran Islands and the traditions of Irish women
when they would be mourning they’d wear their petticoats on their heads
they’d dye them red. So then she just kind of gave in was
like “I get it, you’re really proud of where you’ve come from and you
want that to infiltrate.” That’s kind of what I brought to
my collections there and kind of still runs through them today. I feel really proud of being
an Irish designer because every show that I do I almost treat it
like a play. There’s such a rich history of Irish
writers and storytellers and it’s something that’s naturally kind of
come into my work. Hong Kong to me is really
interesting because it isn’t my hometown but for me what home really
is, is family. The fact that I have such a big
family there. It feels like home. Same with Dublin and now London has
become my home because of my own family. It’s the people that are in each of
those cities and they kind of make it home for me. I’m extremely proud of her because
I think that certainly she’s achieved more today than I achieved in
my whole career. She can manage to have her language
communicated around the whole world. That is something quite difficult
to do. Ireland to me is the people,
the storytelling, the reality, the history, the humour, and those
are the things that create what I do today.