In Conversation with Simone Rocha & Sarah Mower MBE
By Yasmin Jones-Henry
As a millennial (lord knows I loathe starting sentences this way…) I grew up during the 2000’s where everything around mainstream popular culture and art – seemed to merge into one big pit of excess and overconsumption. My generation grew up on a diet of MTV Cribs marathons, F TV (fashion’s main channel broadcasting all the live shows), America’s Next Top Model and Gossip Girl. By the time I’d reached 15, (circa 2007/8) the consumption rate of ‘stuff’ appeared to kick into overdrive. The rich girls at school started shopping at Zara and Primark (just for fun), meanwhile conversations seemed to revolve around Lindsay Lohan’s next meltdown and whether a screen shake or an emoji was the right move to get the get the boy-you-fancied’s-attention. Oh, and MySpace was already being replaced with Facebook – the new age of selfies, statuses and likes was about to dawn.
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Needless to say, I was bored. I was fed up. I was adamant I’d been born in the wrong era. While the rest of the world seemed to be spinning at an alarming rate, I sought refuge in the library. I never cottoned on to the Twighlight series (I was too busy reading Jane Eyre and On Beauty by Zadie Smith). I had a craving for realism, whether it was in a 19th century gothic, or in 21st century literature. I understand now, this all stems from the urge to make sense of what can only be described as ‘growing pains’. Having been a tomboy throughout my infancy, I was struggling to understand what womanhood was all about. Books, female voices, the female gaze – the female aesthetic – all helped to calm this teenage angst.
So, fast forward to July 2019. When I spotted Sarah Mower’s insta story that she would be hosting an evening in conversation with Simone Rocha, I cleared my diary, and made sure I had a front row seat…
I often struggled to explain to my classmates why during free periods at school, I was often found curled up in a corner reading – no – studying the pages of British Vogue. Every so often there would be an interesting thought piece on a literary figure such as Sylvia Plath or a historical piece on Anne Boleyn (her monogrammed ‘B’ pearl necklace was way ahead of its time!). Then sometime between 2007-2008 – I remember reading about the daughter of the much fêted designer John Rocha. Her irreverence towards convention startled the editors (gaining my immediate fandom and support). She appeared to be ripping up the rule book concerning fashion and the female silhouette. This designer was none other than Simone Rocha.
Her playfulness with black and white, puff sleeves, lace, pearls, chunky low heeled indelicate footwear, sharp tailoring with soft edges had me hooked. While I readily acknowledged Christopher Kane’s 2007 AW influence on my decision to repurpose my mother’s Joseph leather trousers for my GCSE art corset sculpture (the coursework was on corsetry through the ages)… I now see that on some subliminal level, Simone’s influence was also present alongside the artist Mary Cassatt in my decision to explore the female gaze and motherhood for my AS exam. You see fashion will do that to you. It gets under your skin – all up in your senses and one way or another the visual aesthetic has a way of permeating your thoughts.
Reverting back to the evening of July 4th 2019, London…
As Sarah coaxed Simone into retracing her footsteps back to her childhood, student life and emerging career as a new designer, I discovered the real reason I gravitated to her work, was her authenticity. Simone does not mince her words. She’s not averse to using the odd expletive wherever necessary. She’s refreshingly honest about the utter complexity of the human condition but also of womanhood itself and is content to leave the questions unresolved. There is often an underlying pressure on females to transform everything into a neat, compact tidy composition; I found Simone’s willingness to present a form of womanhood in an unvarnished state – liberating. She emerged at a time when the industry was hellbent on peddling the lie of size zero perfection. Models were emaciated, white and very European. The reign of bodycon mini dresses, low rise skinny jeans, extensions and sky scraper heels seemed absolute. Then along came Simone…
As she spoke to Sarah about her dual heritage – being both Irish and from Hong Kong, she shared the beauty that comes with the eclectic, sometimes chaotic reality of never being ‘conventional’. Coming from a mixed family, with a graphics designer for a mother and a musician and songwriter for a father – I genuinely felt like I was listening to a kindred spirit as Simone shared the various ways existing outside of convention was a didactic adventure – but also essential for inspiring her compositions.
Then came Sarah’s penultimate question: ‘in light of the industry’s rapid consumption – how does the pressure to produce and create at such a quick rate impact a designer’s mental health?’ I rocked back in my chair (involuntarily), because it’s a question that is not asked enough. The creative industries is currently being held hostage by the churn and burn of fast consumption.
I later discussed that question with my father who– as I’m sure most of my readers know by now – is an avid champion of artists’ rights. His response was simple: “art and industry are irreconcilable. The mental health problems occur because we (artists) don’t do what we do for profit – what we create is a form of self expression – first and foremost. We weren’t built for industry.”
The trends will come and go, but Simone noted, staying true to her own aesthetic was how she intended to safeguard her sanity and wellbeing. Simone’s response to Sarah’s question seemed to reflect a similar philosophy – that the way to remain stable and consistent – is to dance to the beat of your own drum as a creative.
I felt encouraged by Simone’s words, I felt emboldened by her story. Fashion is what you make it. I started this journey on @workinfashion.me looking at the etymology of the word in order to carve out my own space. The Latin infinitive ‘Facere’ means ‘to do or to make’. Whatever your craft is, see to it that you own it. The ability to control and ‘make’ your own narrative is a freedom that none of us should ever take for granted. While some may speculate the reasons behind Simone Rocha’s global success, for me, it’s the fact she keeps it 100. #NoFilter
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