British Vogue’s editor-in-chief Edward Enninful describes her as “a force of change”. And indeed: live-streamed from the dimly-lit Lincoln’s Inn, the gifted storyteller Simone Rocha enthralled audiences with her Autumn Winter 2022 collection at London Fashion Week. Her clothes transformed models into opulent fairytale characters which came to life on the runway.
Typical for Rocha, who is known to draw from her Irish-Cantonese heritage, the collection was inspired by the tragic Irish legend Children of Lir. The ancient mythology tells the story of the sons and daughters of a king, who are turned into swans by their jealous stepmother. “The children become swans for nine hundred years, across three different lakes. And when they come back to human form, they pass away”, said Rocha. The show was accompanied by dramatic church music, which underscored the mood of the Christian fairytale and seemed fitting as audiences worshipped Rocha’s whimsical collection.
Models displaying voluptuous silhouettes made from organza, velvet, tulle and leather paraded across the spherical runway - a projection of the lake, where the swans were relegated to. Generous applications of frothy ruffles, lace, embroidery, and ribbon crowned the collection, again reminding of the royal muses behind it.
There’s a lot to unpack in Rocha’s newest collection as it was filled with hints and nods to the Irish tale. These ranged from subtle references such as a shiny patent leather vest transmitting a sense of wetness, to the more prominent such as cotton wings bursting out of a trench coat and appliqués of swans and waterlilies on a sheer slip dress.
Accessories and makeup were skillfully employed to support the story. Rhinestones and pearls adorned models’ eyes to mimic water droplets. Hair was decorated with bird’s feathers or braided into long plaits reaching all the way to the floor. The braids represented chains, which the children of Lir would have been tied to. They stand for protection but also restriction.
Much like Rocha’s previous shows, this collection played with dichotomies and tension. The show portrayed white in contrast to black swans. Light vs. Dark. Romance vs. Goth. Classical vs. Punk. “Contrast is a big part of my work […] this kind of friction and tension between masculine and feminine, hard and soft, romantic and pragmatic.” said the 35-year-old designer. Rocha juxtaposed whimsical folklore fantasy elements such as feminine baby-doll dresses, accessorized with bows and handbags shaped like giant pearls, with more ‘sinister’ elements such as jackets and tops adorned with vein-like embroidery and red rhinestones reminiscent of blood droplets.
Rocha also married fashion history with prevailing trends. The collection featured heavy Edwardian style velvet gowns popular in the 1900’s as well as swoon-worthy balaclavas - the accessory of Winter Season 2022 par excellence. Quite the Rocha fashion, her balaclavas were embellished with sparkly crystals and stones.
Even though Rocha stayed true to her image, this season she really moved the brand forward. Simone introduced menswear for the first time and expanded her line with androgynous styles subverting gender stereotypes. A striped men’s shirt-turned-dress and traditional suit pants were layered with sheer organza embellished with royal-blue rhinestones.
My personal favourite was the look consisting of a sheer chiffon top with feather-shaped cutouts and a tent-like skirt made up of layers (and layers and layers) of white feathers and tulle. Its dramatic appearance was gasp-inducing as if a swan escaped the stage of The Royal Ballet and landed right on Rocha’s runway. The look was meticulously thought through head to toe. The model displayed pristine diamanté and pearl embellished socks as well as fabulous shoes, to which Rocha added: “When you think of swans, you think of dance, so we’ve done these amazing ballerina-trainers that look like wet beaks”. Topping off the look, the balaclava was meant to imitate the shape of a swan’s head.
This London Fashion Week, Rocha served 40 magical looks created in her all-female studio in Hackney while, last but not least, taking her bow in an understated white nightgown dress and furry slippers.
As I’m returning to the real world from this Rocha fairytale, I’ll be saving up for a balaclava to hide and continue dreaming in. Of swans, ballerinas and goths, high from my saccharine cloud of tulle– it goes without saying.
Images all courtesy of VOGUE Runway
Edited by Isabela Palancean