“I hope women feel feminine, strong, cool, unpredictable and a part of something when they wear the collection,” says Simone Rocha of her H&M collaboration. As for the guys? “My male friends have been asking me to make menswear for the last 10 years, so now they won’t feel left out.” And the kids? “I think they’ll love it, as it’s practical yet playful.” Yes reader, Simone Rocha’s high-street collection is for all the family.
The Irish designer, the first from the country to team up with the Swedish fast-fashion giant, has been on H&M’s wishlist for some time. “We were inspired to work with a female designer who spends so much time thinking about contemporary femininity and womanhood,” notes H&M creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson. The chance to join the prestigious alumni of the high-street store’s designer collabs was what sealed the deal for Rocha, a vintage obsessive who initially came across the brand after its 2004 tie up with Karl Lagerfeld, and who still owns a dotty jumper from the 2008 Comme des Garçons edit. “For such a historical cult brand like Maison Margiela [another collaborator] to be open to do something so global was really impressive to me,” she tells British Vogue via an exclusive Zoom some months ago. “If I was going to share my brand identity and signatures, I wanted to do it for everyone.”
The project coincides with the 10th anniversary of Simone Rocha, so it felt like a timely moment to delve into the brand archives. “The H&M collection is very much an exploration of my existing body of work,” explains the designer. “I took characters and pivotal moments from different seasons and put them all together to create a new story.” Looking back at her first pearly neoprene collection for spring/summer 2014 was emotional, as it established the handwriting of her brand, while the kimono line for spring/summer 2016 was her first London Fashion Week show at Lancaster House. “I put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into every collection,” she shares. “I feel like hardcore fans will like the chance to revisit missed opportunities in the brand history.”
Other seasonal collections proved fruitful for the development of fabrications—a crucial part of the Simone Rocha brand identity and one H&M dedicated a whole team to perfecting. Rocha borrowed the seersucker tartans from her Anne Boleyn autumn/winter 2014 collection, and used the pleated tulles in the Red Dolls spring/summer 2018 edit as starting points for the sweet-yet-striking materials of the silk coupé and cloqué dresses. Flowers in her trademark palette of creams, pinks and red come blown up, and details, such as bows, beads and pearls, are newly imagined. “The collection is not mere re-editions, it takes things and reinterprets them for today and now,” asserts Rocha. “I understand my clothes might be intimidating—too feminine or too dressy—so there’s special pieces and daywear hopefully for everyone.” The price point for the tinsel tulle skirts—a fabric Rocha is particularly pleased with—will be an “inviting way into the Simone Rocha world”, she hopes.
The quality is testament to Rocha’s attention to detail and was immediately remarked upon by friends and Simone Rocha models Adwoah and Kesewa Aboah during the H&M campaign shoot. “I wanted to make sure the quality felt the same level, because I didn’t want to shortchange customers,” explains Rocha. “I believe that it won’t undercut the Simone Rocha brand, because in reality the customer has one amazing opportunity to buy the collection. People should feel comfortable to wear it alongside Simone Rocha and for it not to feel too alien. I don’t want it to feel disposable or throwaway in any way.”
Daisy Edgar-Jones, Tess McMillan, Kelsey Lu, Francesca Hayward and Micheal Ward join the Aboah sisters in the Tyler Mitchell-lensed Simone Rocha x H&M photo series styled by Robbie Spencer. “H&M is the ultimate collaboration, but I collaborate with friends all the time in my own brand and I wanted to bring that to this platform,” notes Rocha. “I wanted to use this talent to show that this collection has come from a sense of community and to portray how I want people to wear it, which is a very familial, human and natural way.”
Speaking of families, the kidswear—which Rocha says was “ridiculously enjoyable to design”—is as adorable as you’d expect. The miniature versions of classic Simone Rocha white cotton poplin dresses and sugary pink cashmere cardigans with pearlescent buttons are simply “delicious”. “There were some pieces that if you shrunk down, they would be so sweet we’d all just die!” she says, beaming.
Borrowing from the boys also looks highly appealing. “In the past, I’ve always looked at the contrast between femininity and masculinity, but this time I wanted to look at the core menswear pieces from my archive that had inspired womenswear, such as the trench coat, the brogue, and Aran knits. Men’s feels like a grounded partner to the womenswear.” Translation: you’ll be buying a boy’s jumper to go with your hyper-feminine, blown-out skirts, and layering crisp button-downs beneath the unlined, light-as-air dresses.
“My brand has always been grounded in a type of modern femininity that is off-kilter and takes you by surprise or is provocative,” she muses. “Over the years, it has evolved and changed as I have evolved as a designer coming out of CSM, to becoming a mother running my own business.” H&M has given her another arm of her business to consider as her name becomes a household one: responsibility. “H&M has really big ideas,” she explains. “It’s all about education and resourcing, and when you have responsibility, what do you do with that?”
For Johansson’s part, she confirms that the Simone Rocha world is as delectable as the dresses. “The studio is a little haven of mindfulness,” she shares. “The team is so synchronised they hardly have to speak and everyone is dressed so beautifully. It was inspiring to see people dress that beautifully every day.” Now, you can do your day-to-day in practically perfect Simone Rocha x H&M too.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.