London Fashion Week: Simone Rocha turns female purity and virginity on its head

Religious themes ran through the Irish designer’s collection, with underlying femininity

"With every show I tell a story," designer Simone Rocha said in a recent interview. It was yet another illustration of the way in which the designer uses her mixed Irish and Chinese identity to define her work and artistic vision.

Her summer collection drew from the Irish tradition of the wren boys, which mystified many English fashion reporters. Yet her underlying femininity – girlish but never girly – continues to drive her collections and her latest for winter 2020 at London Fashion Week was no exception.

The invitation, as always, was a clue to the collection where handwork and craftmanship are always central to everything she does. For winter, it resembled a Victorian silk theatrical playbill, was edged with lace, embroidered in white silk with red lettering, its central motif a cherub. Definitely a keepsake.

Rocha again showed in the sumptuous surroundings of Lancaster House – location of many scenes of the hit drama The Crown – with her parents John and Odette Rocha in attendance. Front row guests included Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and Alexa Chung.

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Irish Catholic rituals surrounding baptism and death, with associated iconography and religious dress, were starting points in this collection. Lace, christening robe embroidery, Sacred Hearts motifs and words such as St Malachy Pray For Us appeared as prints in delicate dresses grounded with flat footwear, leather handbags and chandelier earrings.

Outfits, richly worked, came in layers of virginal white textures or funereal black trailing ribbons and ropes or wrapped in Aran knit shawls. Exquisite lace veils and crowns of white thorns were fresh takes on familiar matrimonial or communion wear or sacred images of the Virgin Mary from Marian shrines.

Though drawing from this skilfully, she put her own signature stamp on a collection that underpinned femininity, whether in puffball-shaped ensembles in blue silk, or handsome black suits in Lurex tweed.

A Victorian grandeur has always marked her shapely silhouettes, which allow for lustrous embroidery and handwork. One of many very beautiful black dresses, one trimmed with frills was worn with white socks and flat footwear, which is typical of Rocha’s irreverent approach. Other sinuous affairs in cream slipper satin had more of a 1940s silver screen siren look.

Tulle skirts were kept in check with flared camel coats, white embroidered tunics topped practical black trousers and fine floral dresses were draped with black sashes. Particularly noticeable this season were the accessories – chain-handled bags, long emerald chandelier earrings and flats with pearl straps.

If her last winter show was a study of female eroticism, this one delved into ideas of female purity and virginity, with her usual subversive approach serving up a winter wardrobe that will stir many a female heart, sacred or otherwise.