Simone Rocha’s SS17 collection goes to work.
As the first few models walked down the gothic nave of Southwark Cathedral, all in white broderie anglaise virginal dresses, buttoned up, balloon-sleeved, and gloved, with skirts reaching mid-calves, one could not help but imagine girls receiving their first communion. Simone Rocha’s collections always have a hint of religious symbolism, yet, there is a sense of subversion underlying her work, making it almost-but-not-quite appropriate for the purpose they seemed to be designed for at first glance. And so the dresses became increasingly more sheer, revealing more and more leg, falling off the shoulder. As the show progressed, luscious and seductive reds made an appearance as embroideries, almost staining the purity of the white dresses, before black tule enveloped the models’ bodies. The garments became more and more deconstructed, at times barely holding up, revealing more than a good Catholic girl would dare to even imagine.
While Rocha’s Irish roots undoubtedly draw her to the significance of religion, for SS17, the designer was also inspired by the artwork of Jackie Nickerson and her photographic series of African farmers, Paul Henry’s painting of Potato Diggers, as well as 18th century Dutch masterpieces. Being looked at from this angle, the collection told a story of young Irish girls whose purity and innocence has been eroded away as they take on their work in the fields. Sleeves began to drip with loose string, skirts and shirts were tied up and coats only pulled up on one side, fastened around the waist with a belt, allowing for a greater ease of movement. Then, the dresses became, inevitably, shredded, deconstructed and patchworked back together after getting destroyed during a hard day’s work. There was a sense of trying to hold on to the pretty, heavily embroidered, unsoiled dresses of childhood, which could still be spotted peaking out from under trench coats and wraps, as well as in the almost desperate attempt of the girls to show off their precious tailoring, which, however, collapsed and disintegrated as the show (and their working lives) went on.
The accessories designed by Rocha for her SS17 collection were unmistakably farmer-like. Her agricultural girls wore rubber wellies, white at first, then almost exclusively black and red. The flower embroidered gloves, so delicate and immaculate from afar were actually made out of rubber, while the bags took a form of sacks bunched up in the models’ hands, tied with a drawstring, almost like a sack of potatoes. In less sensitive hands, the farmer references could have become a bit too crude, a little obvious. Rocha, however, somehow manages to take inspiration from somewhat drab and lowly settings, and magically transforms them with her genius, resulting in evening-wear to die for.