Out of office: coffee and creative small talk with Simone Rocha
Bodil Blain, Wallpaper* columnist and founder of Cru Kafé, shares coffee and creative small talk with leading figures from the worlds of art, architecture, design, and fashion. This week, London-based fashion designer Simone Rocha
Bodil Blain: How do you take your coffee?
Simone Rocha: Black with ice. On a doily. Anyone who spends a bit of time with me leaves knowing how to crochet.
BB: When did you first realise that you were creative?
SR: I always worked in my dad’s studio, who was a designer. He had a full fashion studio in Dublin and I was always just hanging around from about the age of 13. I was never going to do anything academic, but it was probably when I went to art college in Dublin and one of the tutors persuaded me to take the fashion module. I did my project on nurses. I printed all these images of how they used to make the old nurses’ hats and wondered whether I could make skirts out of that type of construction. My brain just started working. I realised then that that was how I could make emotion, through clothes.
BB: Who’s been your biggest influence?
SR: I’ve always been obsessed with Louise Bourgeois. Sadly she died before I got the chance to meet her, but I was lucky, I got a chance to visit her home and I do a lot of work with her foundation. I’ve done printed matter with Bourgeois images in it, and there are some of her pieces in my store on Wooster Street in New York.
BB: Your work always tells a story. Where do you find your stories?
SR: It comes from something personal. For one collection, I was in Japan, I was pregnant, feeling a bit weird and there was cherry blossom everywhere. I felt alienated, out of place and I started the collection from that feeling. I was thinking about how I could integrate the cherry blossoms into the fabric. At Château La Coste in Provence (W*214), I saw this amazing Louise Bourgeois spider on the wall. I made some of her shapes into embroidery, some into 3D shapes. So it flip-fops between the two – it can be a specific artist or item, or it can be a place. It’s hard to describe.
‘I realised then that that was how I could make emotion, through clothes.’
BB: It’s one thing to be an artist, but with your work, it goes onto a person and becomes embodied by them.
SR: Exactly! That’s what’s so interesting to me about fashion, it’s physical, human, it’s functional. You have to be able to put your head through a hole, you know, and walk around in the work. I always want my clothes to integrate into someone else’s personality and style. That’s why people in their sixties wear my clothes, people who are sixteen wear my clothes. It’s not about a certain architecture I create, that I want other people to fit into, but the other way round.
BB: Who do you design for?
SR: My last winter collection, Marching Roses, was based around the concept of strong women and I wanted all different types of women to embody that. It comes from the clothes. It’s not like ‘OK, I need Kate Moss.’
BB: I feel like there’s a strong vein of creativity that comes from being displaced from your homeland, whether forced or by choice. Is ‘home’ part of what you do?
SR: I’m very proud of being Irish. I go home a lot, actually – it’s very close and my other half is Irish as well. I love going back now, but I have to admit, I hated a lot of growing up there. Then when I moved to the UK, I got very homesick, romantic and nostalgic for my Irish upbringing. I started getting interested in the history of Ireland, I got obsessed with Irish writers and poets, which is really funny, being dyslexic. Half the time, I’d have to go back and read over what I’d just read, but I loved it so much, it didn’t matter. I read a huge amount of almost exclusively Irish novels now.
BB: You’ve come a long way in a short time, does it feel that way?
SR: Yeah, it happened so fast. At school I wasn’t very academic, but I loved college, it gave me so much energy. I kept working and got all these amazing opportunities. I moved to London for my MA and the fashion world was print-orientated, but I did my MA show all in black, inspired by the Aran Island mourners off the coast of Ireland. When people died, the women used to wear their petticoats on their heads as a mark of respect. It was all-black tailoring with these petticoat hats, quite restrained but it felt right for me at that time. I had no idea what to do afterwards, when I got a call from Fashion East and it built from there. Then I just focused on making really good products for DSM until I got my own store.
BB: What do you think guided you through that rise?
SR: I’m very decisive. I’ve always been like that. I have no patience, which is something I’m not proud of, but work-wise is quite good. And the more I do, the more energy I get from it. It’s a really exciting job to have.
BB: Who would you most like to collaborate with?
SR: Astier de Villatte, because I love their plates. It’s amazing I get to work with amazing photographers, filmmakers and friends on a long-term basis. I like working with my husband, too [cinematographer Eoin McLoughlin]. We made a film with photographer Jackie Nickerson two years ago in Zambia, called Patchwork, Work. §
A version of this article originally featured in the November 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*236)