“My code name is Pearl,” confided Simone Rocha in a squeaky stage-whisper over Zoom, the week before Christmas. Finally, the cloak of secrecy surrounding the designer’s collaboration with H&M can be flung open: a set of online film teasers is launched today. “Pearl”—thus nicknamed by H&M for her well-known penchant for pearly beads—entered negotiations with the Swedish fast fashion behemoth as far back as the fairytale time of summer 2018. The project took a lot longer than anyone foresaw, but geographical pandemic restrictions allowing, it will be at last shoppable globally in H&M stores and online in March.
Essentially, the collab is an expanded microcosm of Simone Rocha’s entire Irish-Chinese feminine-feminist world for all the family, seen right through to the pink perspex shop-in- shop-fit, hangers and sugar-almond pink packaging. “When H&M came to talk, I said, if I’m going to do it, I want to do it for everybody, not only women, but for men and children—and to make sure they get the quality.” She’s never made children’s and menswear before; it’s also the first time she’s dipped her finger into beauty. There’s going to be a “pink stain pot” for dabbing on cheeks and lips as well.
As a holistic amplification of the identity of an independent house, it has the thoroughness of the H&M collaborations with Martin Margiela, Versace, and Comme des Garçons. Those are benchmarks which aren’t lost on Rocha, who grew up thrilled to be able to get her hands on clothes designed by her heroes in the 2000s. “There’s still a Lanvin X H&M box in my teenage bedroom at my parent’s home in Dublin!”
True: many of these collections became lasting collectibles, and were swiftly traded online, an answer—in part—to some of the reservations about associations with fast fashion that customers have now. Rocha also notes that the aim of work with sustainably-sourced materials was a factor. “A company like H&M has a much bigger footprint than something like Simone Rocha, so yes, sustainability for us came into the fabrications. We were able to use an organic cotton, recycled polyester, a new compostable yarn. Actually, it was very interesting to see what could translate, and I think people will be surprised by the quality when they see it,” she said. “So I hope it will be special enough to want to wear forever.
She’s certainly held nothing back in lavishing on all the Rocha hallmarks—the broderie anglaise, tartan seersucker, tinselly tweed, puffy cloques, plump bows, pearl embroidery—right through to the hairbands and dangly red flower-shaped plastic earrings which are her best-sellers. “It’s 10 years now since I started, so it was nice to look back through the archive. It felt important to pick out pivotal moments that you could recognize as my codes, to share my identity.”
The pan-generational, and size inclusivity of her range now runs, with H&M, from adorable little girls’ dresses to unlined suits and sweaters for men; and other styles—like Perspex-soled brogues and trench coats—to share. Extending herself into menswear came naturally, she said. “Looking at my first collections, I did a lot of cross-pollinating between femininity and masculinity: brogues, tailoring, cropped trousers, trench coats. I didn’t want to do ‘Simone Rocha frivolity for men.’ I stripped it back, so it became about practicality, ease. I translated my Aran knits into cotton yarn, some with pearl embroidery. I just wanted it to be boyish, cool, and real.”
The collaboration is a further opportunity to bring Rocha’s extended-family talents to film making. Her partner Eoin McLaughlin has shot documentary chats with Simone, and Adwoa and Kesewa Aboah; there’s a campaign shot by Tyler Mitchell to come, and some treats in the pipeline with acting appearances from Daisy Edgar-Jones and Micheal Ward. “I wanted it to be things which will integrate into people’s lives. I wanted to make sure that all the people I normally work with were brought into it, and a couple of new friends,” Rocha reflected. “When you approach something so mass, I wanted to make sure it still feels human. And as for the clothes, I hope it’s something that will integrate into people’s lives.”