The Power Of Us: Meet The Artists Who Make Up Simone Rocha's Universe

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Meet The Artists Who Make Up Simone Rocha's WorldHearst Owned

What makes the world go round? For Simone Rocha, it’s her rich and diverse creative community. Artists, writers, dancers, directors, poets, musicians, actors and artisans power her brand. With them as champions, Dublin-born Rocha has built a universe that resonates far beyond her independent, London-based label. And, today, part of that universe is squeezed into a sleek concrete-floored location house in north London. Five members of an Irish rock band are having pearls glued to their faces, a bestselling poet twirls in a tulle skirt, a painter is buckled into a tiered cream dress, while a prima ballerina digs into the shoot catering. All swarm in delight around Rocha, as happy to be wearing her new collection as they are to be in her– and each other’s – company. Together, they laugh, dance...and plan a post-shoot trip to the pub.

Rocha designs with total conviction, and she’s drawn to that same quality in other artists. She reflects on how the strength of her brand’s community has supercharged her career. ‘Rather than just saying, “Oh, these are people who look great in my clothes,” it’s genuinely a creative exchange. It’s me admiring what they do and seeing something in their work and world, and then it’s us corresponding together,’ she says. It’s clear that, despite their differences, Rocha’s creative partners reflect her own values back at her.

She could be talking about one of her own designs when she describes her friend Francesca Hayward, a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. ‘She’s so strong and beautiful, simultaneously.’ Of the Brixton-based poet James Massiah, who was the first to wear her recently launched menswear on the red carpet (actor Paul Mescal was the second), she says, ‘His poetry is so relevant. His words are very authentic to him. The way they’re spoken, the way that he puts them together, I think is amazing and it is equally amazing that someone in his discipline would feel at home in my menswear.’

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She met the British/Chinese artist Faye Wei Wei when she dressed her for an art opening. ‘It was a gold embroidered dress. There was this amazing picture of her photographed with her paintings and she kind of blended into them,’ remembers Rocha. Speaking of Wei Wei’s bold, lyrical pieces, she says, ‘Her work has an almost historical, mythical feeling, but then, at the same time, it’s very grounded in today. And she has a real understand-ing of all my influences and how that is translated into something physical.’ These are Rocha-like values through and through.

Meanwhile, she found Dublin-based band The Murder Capital through a large global network of talented young Irish creatives (who include Oscar nominees Paul Mescal and Barry Keoghan and the band Fontaines DC). They come together across different disciplines to support each other, explains the designer. ‘There is this whole push of people of my generation who are creatively doing really exciting things,’ she says. ‘I think there’s something about finding like-minded people, then being very engaged in their storytelling – whatever medium that could be. It’s really exciting to be in conversation.’

That sense of community started early for Rocha. ‘I grew up in a very creative household,’ says the designer, whose father is John Rocha, a London Fashion Week superstar in the Eighties and Nineties. Fashion was the family business. Her mother Odette worked on the production side of her father’s brand (and also works with her daughter) and Rocha cherishes the time she spent in his studio as a child. ‘I was very fortunate,’ she says of the creative environment she grew up in. Those early years gave her a love of the design process and of storytelling through clothes. ‘I feel connected to it, and connected to the process of the collections,’ she says.

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After studying at Central Saint Martins, she launched her label at Fashion East in 2010 and quickly built up a loyal fanbase, especially for her accessories. She originally thought of the pearl hairclips, jewellery and bags as an extension of her ornate clothes but, since then, they’ve taken on cult status, with pearls becoming her unofficial motif. She now has four stores – in London, New York, Hong Kong and Taiwan – and spends her time travelling between them and her design studio.

The Chinese-Irish designer is revered for her highly decorative and deeply crafted work that draws on Irish music, folklore and traditions. For AW23, she stuffed the balloon sleeves of her gowns with raffia – a reference to the rituals of the Irish harvest festival of Lughnasadh, which pre-dates Christianity. Also woven in were references to the sea and to PerryOgden’s iconic book, Pony Kids, which documents Dublin’s settled traveller children and their horses (Ogden also walked the runway).

‘I’ve always been interested in the contrast of fragility and strength or masculinity and femininity,’ says Rocha, who combines imposing volumes with delicate lace or lavish pearl embellishments, grounding the femininity of her looks with a sturdy biker jacket or heavy brogue shoes. ‘I feel very privileged that I’m from two places, Ireland and Hong Kong, and that duality has been really natural to me. I think that’s why there’s a lot of duality in my work.’

Having long used masculine shapes and references in her womenswear, she recently added menswear to her growing universe. ‘I wanted to explore the sensitivity I could bring,’ she says of her men’s clothing, which is just as voluminous, embellished and precious as her women’s. The sense of whimsical romance disrupts traditional menswear, which only amplifies the modernity of her pieces. With fashion becoming ever more non-gendered, her timing is spot on.

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She’d long noticed men shopping her women’s pieces and now she sees women shopping the men’s collection, too. ‘Everything from dresses to shirts to knitwear and the pearl jewellery is bought by both,’ she says. ‘There’s so much crossover between gender. I think it has been broken down. I feel that, today, the narrative has changed.’

She pulls it all together in soaring, symphonic fashion shows that she likens more to plays than traditional catwalks. ‘I need to show,’ she says. ‘Just clothes on a rail isn’t enough.’ Her presentations thrill with narrative, music and emotion. ‘I’ma storyteller,’ she explains, from her desk in her east-London studio. Behind her, bookshelves heave with volumes on art, fashion and photography, flanked by novels and poetry by Irish greats including Seamus Heaney and James Joyce. Alongside them sit books on artisanal embroidery, historical dress and encyclopaedias of needlework. As shelfies go, it’s a rich representation of the designer’s mindset.

Considering her talent, she says, ‘I can translate emotion into clothes to make other people feel something, whether it’s when they’re seeing it at a show or wearing it. It creates emotion.’ Rebellious, romantic and ethereal, her clothes are coveted by the likes of Rihanna, Gemma Chan and Nicola Coughlan. In 2021, Rocha proved her global appeal with a sell-out H&M collaboration. The success of it gave her an insight into just how broad her reach is.

With her craft-laden creations, she is redefining luxury as something more personal, intimate and poetic. Her signature bag is not a flashy-looking leather number, but a precious, pearlised, egg-shaped sensation, its outsized proportions straight out of the Alice in Wonderland playbook.

As a mother of two young girls, her days start early – ‘I’m usually up at 6am’ – but the 20-minute walk to her studio each morning helps her transition into work mode. Once there, a typical day could involve fittings, design meetings for bags and jewellery, and working on special projects (last year she curated her first exhibition, of women artists, at Lismore Castle). Thirteen years after launching, Rocha has shown she can compete with big-budget luxury houses for the eyes and ward-robes of us all.

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Would she ever head up a big house? ‘Never say never,’ she says diplomatically, ‘but I think there’s a time and a place for everything. And maybe that’s never the time or place for me.I don’t know.’ Ultimately her greatest pride is in being a part of a global fashion conversation, able to hold her own against huge heavyweight brands with unlimited resources. And she’s done it with the power of her community by her side.

Here's what Rocha's favourite artists have to say:


‘I recently got into John Singer Sargent’s work, and there’s something about the paintings that remind me of the garments that Simone makes. I respect her work – it speaks for itself. She’s so grounded, and it’s an honour to be part of the community and attend shows. I feel confident and elevated in her work,’ says James Massiah. ‘Me and Simone met at one of my solo shows a few years ago and we became friends, as she was interested in my paintings. Her pieces are so magical, strong and romantic – they feel like armour,’ says Faye Wei Wei.


Her AW23 show was so impressive – it’s inspiring to see statements being made through fashion. Lankum (an Irish folk group) created an 18-minute piece written just for the show,’ says Gabriel Blake of the band.


‘I’m surrounded by creative people in the ballet world and then stepping out into the fashion world makes you feel braver. I’m lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of art and beauty everywhere.’

PHOTOGRAPHS BY SILVANA TREVALE. This article appears in the June 2023 issue of ELLE UK, out now.

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