Zoë Rocha's New Netflix Show Is A Joyful, Fashion-Filled Watch - The Gloss Magazine

Zoë Rocha’s New Netflix Show Is A Joyful, Fashion-Filled Watch

How do you represent fashion accurately as the daughter of one of Ireland’s biggest designers? Geek Girl, a new ten-part series on Netflix that’s creatively produced by Zoë Rocha (daughter of John Rocha), does just that. Here, Rocha explains the detail that went into building an authentic world of style …

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Zoë Rocha sums it up in one word: “Yes,” she laughs, when I ask her if there was any pressure when producing a Netflix series set in the world of high fashion. For the uninitiated, Rocha is the daughter of prominent Irish fashion designer John Rocha. “I was so lucky that I had a conversation with my dad and told him that the show was going to be in and around the world of fashion and obviously there would be a lot of eyes on how credible our representation of that was. He advised to have a fashion consultant working on it just to make sure those bits are so subtly represented and we wanted it to feel as real as possible,” she explains. 

The show Geek Girl was creatively produced by Rocha for her production company Ruby Rock and, additionally, Rocha has written on the series too, also while leading the charge on the fashion direction of the show which takes place at London Fashion Week and is shot at key sites synonymous for fashion shows such as Tate Britain. It’s a charming, fashion-filled watch. Such guilty pleasure, binge worthy shows, inevitably, will garner Emily in Paris comparisons, although I’d argue Geek Girl has a kinder heart to it, an ethos that is as much about acceptance as it is style accoutrements. 

The new ten-part series, which comes to Netflix this week, is based on Holly Smale’s best-selling young adult books of the same name. It follows the life of Harriet Manners, an awkward 16-year-old whose life is turned upside down when she is scouted by a model agent at London Fashion Week and is suddenly catapulted into the world of fittings, runway shows and learning the elusive ‘model’s walk’. The books are partially autobiographical – Smale, too, was signed by a modelling agency, at age 15, hoping it would redeem her from being a social outcast – however some timelines differ. In the TV show, Harriet is a neurodivergent character, while in real life Smale, after decades of feeling like an outsider, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 39. Regardless, the social landmines of teenage life will certainly resonate. “The books made people realise it’s okay to be different,” Rocha says. “It’s a story of an outsider who doesn’t fit in as a geek and then she starts modelling and she doesn’t fit in there. Her whole journey is about realising that you can be both: you can be a model and a geek, you can be anything that you want to be, just be yourself and you’ll find your tribe.” The show, which was co-created by Smale, used a neurodiversity consultant to ensure it delivers a sensitive representation of an autistic character, while the production also featured neurodivergent cast and crew.

For Rocha, who has grown up both immersed in the fashion industry while managing to circumvent it entirely (surprisingly, she has never actually worked in fashion), can she relate to how it might appear daunting? “I obviously grew up in that world so I’ve kind of seen it, but I wasn’t a 5ft10 skinny model, I was a teenager who was spending a load of time in that world and going, ‘God, everyone looks so fantastic and I don’t necessarily think that I do.’ There were elements when I was younger that could have made me feel like an outsider because it can feel like everyone in this industry is so perfect but I know it so well now and I know that it’s just like every other industry,” she says. 

Image: Albert Camicioli.

Then there’s the aforementioned fashion. To ensure she represented the family trade in the most authentic way possible – arguably, making it another character in the show – Rocha teamed up with Karl Plewka, a veteran stylist who has worked with names such as Vivienne Westwood (“Karl was Vivienne Westwood’s assistant during that moment when Naomi fell on the runway – you don’t get more iconic experience than that!” Rocha says), as well as John Rocha, to consult on all things style related. And, as Rocha details the level of thought that has gone into the representation of fashion in the ten part series, it was wholly worth it. Keen eyed viewers will spot certain details when watching: a flurry of Stephen Jones hats in one scene, appearances by beauty insider Val Garland, even the casting of real life models for the show’s many runway moments such as 70s icon Marie Helvin, Emily Viviane and Jade Parfitt (who, incidentally, has now walked in shows for Rocha, her father and her sister Simone). “The make-up used backstage at London Fashion Week was all provided by Charlotte Tilbury, we wanted it to seem as authentic as possible,” Rocha explains.

The jewel in the crown, however, was delving into the John Rocha archives to source clothing for the show’s fictional fashion designer, Yuji Lee. Overall, there are 40 pieces from archive John Rocha collections featured. Viewing her father’s designs with fresh eyes, did anything about them surprise her? “What I was so overcome with was that everything looked like it could have been going down the runway today; the details, the colours, some of the dresses … nothing about it felt vintage or old. My dad was more worried about whether it would be contemporary enough. He was saying, ‘I hope it still holds up today’ and I told him how beautiful everything looked. Each piece is something I would happily wear now,” she says. When I ask her what she thinks her father’s design legacy will be, Rocha doesn’t miss a beat. “I think it was groundbreaking, I think he really set a lot of things in motion for a lot of other designers who came after him in Ireland and internationally, as well,” she says. The series highlights new talent as well as storied designers. “Karl and I went to the Central Saint Martins BA graduate show and handpicked three new designers to feature. It was lovely to see designers just starting out on their journey,” she says.

Image: Ray Burmiston.

The show also features pieces from Rocha’s younger sister, Simone. Spot the designer’s diaphanous designs – loved by her acolytes, dubbed ‘Simone-ettes’ – worn by tastemakers on the front row in Geek Girl. In her own words, how would she describe the appeal of a Simone Rocha piece? “I think she struck a chord with a generation of women who embrace femininity with strength. She has such a unique identity with her brand and such a loyal fanbase, it’s amazing. I think the brands that stand out are those that when you see a piece you can instantly recognise it as a Simone Rocha – designers like that don’t come along that often,” she says. Does she see a similarity between John and Simone’s work? “There’s this celebration of femininity in their work. When you put on one of those pieces it just makes you feel good about yourself,” she says. 

The whole process, it seems, has been a family affair. Rocha married her partner Declan O’Dwyer, the director of the series, during production. “Netflix very kindly gave us three days off to get married in between edits,” she laughs. At the time of our interview, nobody in her family has watched the show yet but, she tells me, there will be a family screening. “I’ll be hiding down the back the first time they watch it,” she laughs. “I want to do justice to it and show the fashion world in an exciting way so if there are young girls or boys out there watching the show and going ‘can I go into this world that feels so kind of alien’, that actually yes you can: it’s all about encouragement,” she says. At the end of the day, it should feel joyful. “There is so much stress in the world right now, sometimes you just want to watch something that celebrates happiness,” she says. 

Geek Girl is available to watch on Netflix from May 30. 


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