Every cab driver in London wants to talk about Brexit. Some for, some against. After the third one, I do my best to discourage it. In my limited experience, short taxi rides are not conducive to debating politics. The driver taking me to Simone Rocha’s AW17 collection is far too enthusiastic in his support of Britain’s departure from the EU, but I politely listen to his views. When we hit traffic around Victoria Station, I have to cut him off (less politely), not just because I’m running late and afraid I’ll miss my place at the most anticipated show of the season, but because he’s taken it upon himself to move on to Irish politics, attempting to inform me the Irish famine didn’t happen the way we all “think” it did.
Lancaster House, the show space for Simone Rocha’s AW17 collection
That’s why I smile when I see the key words on Rocha’s show programme read “protection, feminine, famine”. The Irish designer is doing what she does best – telling a story through her clothes. It also amuses me she’s decided to show once again in Lancaster House, a mansion built in 1825 for the second son of King George III, is so lavish that Queen Victoria is believed to have told the Duchess of Sutherland, “I have come from my house to your palace.” But Rocha is all about contrasts and contradictions. Her design signature is a master blend of strength and softness, aggressive yet delicate. In this, she represents the modern woman – a complicated mix of characteristics that refuses to be defined by just one.
Alexa Chung, wearing Simone Rocha AW17
There are a few late arrivals due to the aforementioned commuter traffic so proceedings are running behind, but if Rocha’s in-house team and event partners are anxious they don’t show it. Just before they close the doors Alexa Chung arrives and is quickly ushered to the front row. She’s dressed beautifully in a floral embroidered Rocha creation. Unlike the other shows at London Fashion Week, the audience for Rocha’s feels like a true representation of her consumer – a richly diverse range of women from different backgrounds, social status and generations. It’s the attention to the latter that is immediately noticeable when the show starts. The model casting is diverse –Marie-Sophie Wilson, the 53-year-old French model and Benedetta Barzini, a 73-year-old model Italian model and actress blend into the mix of more predictable faces. The collection is a rich mix of bonded velvet, chequered tweed, featuring embroidery, embellished collars and crochet leather flowers. Fabrics and textures continue to be the focal point for the designer. It’s a rich, beautiful display of innovation, craft and vision and proves, once again, Rocha is a formidable force in today’s fashion industry. While previous collections have been dominated by youth and innocence, AW17 feels like a coming of age. Optimism and experience take prominence. The designer’s heritage permeates throughout. Irish music, curated by Rocha’s brother Max, plays out the marching models.
I’m invited backstage and greedily accept, eager for the chance to see the clothes up close. I pass security, and a man with a Donald Trump piñata (stress relief for the after party, perhaps?) before reaching the dressing room. Rocha is flanked by international press all vying for a soundbite and her mother, and business partner, Odette is keeping a proud yet protective eye on proceedings. I bump into Lorraine Keane and The Irish Times’ Deirdre McQuillan. Together we declare the show a triumph and pick out our favourite pieces before they are quickly packed away by Rocha’s hardworking team, who have earned a post-show drink, if not a pop at that piñata.
Rosaleen McMeel is the editor of IMAGE Magazine. For more LFW updates, follow Rosaleen on Instagram @rosaleenmc