For Simone Rocha, 2021 has been a major year; her past few days, manic. “It’s been a busy week,” she says with a laugh, looking totally calm and cool in a plush leather biker jacket, her hair tied back in a shiny black bow. Only a few days ago, Rocha was accepting the Independent British Designer award at the British Fashion Awards in London, now she’s in New York to celebrate a decade of her fashion label. “I feel really proud and humbled,” she says. “It’s amazing that what I do still resonates really strongly.”
Rocha’s clothes don’t just resonate, they intoxicate. Her signature feminine style draws people into her fantastical world of leather, lace, tartan and tulle. Over the years, the London-based designer’s ethereal spirit has caught the attention of celebrities like Rihanna, Keira Knightley and Alexa Chung. It’s an independent energy that sets the brand apart, and has also allowed for careful expansion: Rocha currently has stores in London, New York and Hong Kong, collaborated with brands like Moncler and H&M (the capsule quickly sold out) and continues to stock Dover Street Market, a partnership that started early on in her career. All the while, she has maintained a distinctive aesthetic.
At her store on Manhattan’s Wooster Street, where we’re chatting ahead of a launch party for an installation that honors her fall 2021 collection, friends and collaborators dressed in oversized white shirts, tartan skirts, pearls and chunky leather boots—pieces synonymous with Rocha’s style—trickle in to celebrate.
To commemorate the 10-year anniversary, Rocha worked with a set designer to create an installation made from screen-printed perspex panels welded together that resembles an A-frame church. The panels, which traveled from London and mimic the look of stained glass windows, are a reference to her fall 2021 show, which took place in a church in Hyde Park earlier this year. “Because I was marking the decade, I wanted this idea of congregation,” she says about her decision to host the show in a church. The playhouse-sized installation inside the store is dotted with mannequins styled in black and pink rose-embroidered tulle dresses and snug leather jackets. The pieces are selections from the archives, as well as her latest collection, inspired by the fragility and strength of a rose.
To further the celebration, Rocha partnered with the superbly chic artist Laila Gohar to create another layer of installation: an array of edible delights, also inspired by the collection. “There’s a natural dialogue between what I do with my clothes and what Laila does in her work,” says Rocha, who met Gohar when she designed her wedding dress a few years ago.
“We have this mutual trust,” adds Gohar, who, in her oversized tartan and black feathered coat and dangling pearl earrings, looks like she belongs in the installation. “When you come into the store, you feel like you’re going inside Simone’s world. I’m always drawn to a person’s ability to create that,” she adds. Both creators also have a mutual appreciation for the French American artist Louise Bourgeois, whose work often serves as a reference point.
Gohar’s installation, which is a large black coffee table laden with candied fruits, slabs of butter shaped like fish, cakes baked in broken eggshells (a reference to Rocha’s egg-shaped bags) and bitter orange panna cotta set in silver scalloped dishes, feels very Bourgeois. They’re so beautiful you don’t want to touch them, let alone consume them. “There’s something feminine but also perverse about this,” says Gohar, nodding to the long charcuterie, baguette and sugared fruit shaped like breasts. “I like that tension. It’s innocent but a bit tongue-in-cheek,” she says, adding that she doesn't like it when things become too precious. “That’s the thing about Simone’s work, there are so many delicate materials that you could consider precious, like the tulle and the lace. But she does it in a way that isn’t precious.”
While Gohar’s installation was perishable (and eaten enthusiastically by all the attending guests), the perspex ‘church’ installation will be at the Wooster Street store until January, then move to Dover Street Market, New York and to Los Angeles. “I wanted this idea of a traveling church,” says Rocha. “It’s nice that it’s congregating in more places.” If anything, the installation provides a compelling reason to gather in her already-desirable stores. And perhaps leave with a tulle dress or two.