“I was thinking about the Irish Wrenboys, who go hunt and kill a wren on St Stephen’s day in Ireland—punkish boys who go knocking on doors, kind of like trick-or-treaters,” said Simone Rocha. “So I wanted to bring that masculinity to the table—but also turn and look into the houses of the people whose doors they knock on—at the Delft china, the tablecloths, the wallpaper.”
Well. Anyone who isn’t of a Celtic European background, or indeed a folklore specialist, would not have had a single inkling about the wellspring of Rocha’s latest collection. There were many left open-mouthed and clueless in the post-show congregation backstage. Nevertheless, amongst the mesmerizing visuals—the delicate blue and white ruffles, the echoes of starchy tablecloths, net curtains and doilies—there were hints of something raw and ritualistic: blasts of folk music, straw sashes, crocheted raffia, a peculiar woven 3D symbol hanging from girls’ shoulders.
Come showtime, one never has to hunt too far to feel the shadow of something dark amongst the prettiness at Simone Rocha. On the surface, this was truly one of her prettiest collections, what with its trapezoid volumes, sheer leg o’ mutton sleeves, shirting smocks and eyelet-edged cuffs. Lovely palette, too: after the china prints, sugar pink, dark red, faded chintzy antique prints. Shown in the round—the stage of a flaking theater at Alexandra Palace—you caught the profiles of bubble dresses, new silhouettes ballooning outward to be gathered in at knee level.
A swift trawl of the internet gleans something of the deeply-rooted pre-Christian Wrenboy tradition—the day after Christmas parade when men dress in straw outfits, vie to capture a wren, and knock on neighborhood doors to demand money. Some of the girls in Rocha’s show had wren feathers painted on their foreheads. The burgeoning straw became basket-bags. The new, ballooning silhouettes—kind indeed to womanly bodies—were nevertheless gleaned from a sinister thought: “The outline of the bird,” said Rocha. Once she said it, you saw: the profile of a bird’s crop and tail, blown up, in motion.
Retro-fitting what is seen in a fashion show with knowledge of a designer’s inspirations isn’t strictly necessary. This collection is what it is: a multi-layered treasury of signature Rocha clothes, satin ballet slippers, sparkly head-dresses and summer raffia bags. Pointing to something which is ancient, Irish, and unknown across the water in England may or may not have significance in these times of Brexit. Simone Rocha is a designer who recognizes the existence of cultural depths, fear, cruelty—and ultimately the power of women of all ages to overcome.
Photos are courtesy of Filippo Fior / Gorunway.com