On a flying visit to Dublin to launch her AW23 menswear collection at Havana Boutique in Donnybrook, we spoke to Irish designer Simone Rocha about the role of Irish folklore in her collections, the creative benefits of working with an almost all-female team, balancing work with motherhood and her upcoming guest collection for Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture …
We know that women of all ages and styles wear and treasure your clothes – but who is the Simone Rocha man?
Even with my womenswear I’ve never really had one muse. I’ve always been exploring femininity and that’s why as you say it’s all different types of women. It’s the same with the menswear, it’s about exploring masculinity and the sensitivity that can come with that and the complexity of that. It’s hard to say “one man” if I’m being honest but it’s very much a partner to the women’s.
Since I introduced the menswear, I still look at the collection as one collection, it’s about the role of the woman and the role of the man, and how that influences womenswear and the menswear, but then there is also a crossover between them.
So much of your work is based around Irishness and Irish traditions and folklore…
For some of my collections I end up researching very close to home. When you’re looking into a subject if you feel a personal connection to it you can pull a lot more out of it, so over the years some have been more specific like folklore stories of the Children of Lír or this particular collection I was looking into Lughnasa. Because I was using womenswear and menswear I was looking at the relationships and these kind of old courting traditions and how that could then influence the fabrication or the textiles. So really it’s just about an exploration and how that can translate into the clothes. Being Irish it just feels very natural to look to home.
Producing two collections a year, do you really get lost in these stories for that time?
After one collection I really have to step away from it. I’ll usually do one collection that’s much closer to home and much more personal and then the next collection might be something more abstract that I’m almost abstracting ideas from into design, so that could be like being heavily influenced by an artist for example and their body of work and how that could influence a collection.
You’ve spoken before about being inspired by Louise Bourgeois, is she one of your main artist inspirations?
I love Louise Bourgeois, at the moment I’m actually in a show with her work and my work in MoMu in Antwerp. I’ve always felt a real connection to her work and I’ve been very fortunate in the past to be influenced but also to do a collaboration with the foundation, where some of our clothes were kind of done together with her fabrications and my designs.
You have an almost all-female team, how does this inform what you do?
Well I think we work very hard. It’s an amazing mix of creativity, inspiration and hard work. I think like you said my clothes, they really feel right for lots of different types of women and that’s the same with my team, it’s all different types of people and I think that has had a big influence. All my samples are made in my atelier, we make everything in-house which is amazing. Then all my production is in Europe, between Italy and Portugal. Fabrics are Portugese and Italian, we use some English, some Irish handwork, some hand knitting, so it’s a mix.
What is your daily uniform?
Black! I actually love a mix of something very practical, so this is one of my Moncler jackets from when I was part of Moncler Genius, but then this is our new luxury Italian leather handbag, and I love that mix. So that’s my uniform, always something practical and then something very fancy worn together.
You work very closely with your mum, Odette and must have learned a lot from your dad, John. How has becoming a mother yourself informed how you create and what do you hope to inspire in your two daughters?
It’s made me much more specific about what I do because I have less time so it has made me much more focused. Now I appreciate my time at home so it means that when I’m in the studio I have to do a lot but that’s quite good. I grew up with two working parents in the creative industry and I was always very much around that and it was really inspiring. I really hope they [my daughters] will feel the same.
Can you tell us anything about your position as guest designer for Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture 2024?
I am really thrilled to be the guest designer for Haute Couture and I’m working on it at the moment. I’m working in the atelier in Paris every week, once a week.
The process for haute couture is very different, very focused, very…slow is the wrong word but it’s a different pace, it’s a different focus as it’s very focused on the clientele. It’s really nice because I’m working a lot with Monsieur Gaultier’s archive so there’s also this kind of real interesting tension between the past and the present whereas with my own collections it’s all about the new, it’s a new language, whereas this is a really interesting marriage.
I’ll be showing with them in January in Paris for Haute Couture and then I’ll show Simone Rocha in February in London. I’ve actually never been this busy but I’m loving it. It’s really a dream come true.