London's 10-day mourning period following the death of Queen Elizabeth II was already a reminder of the deep history entrenched in the city. One day before the state funeral, Simone Rocha's show, set at the historic Old Bailey — the backdrop of some of the most notorious trials in Britain's history – served the same purpose. With marble floors, stained glass windows, allegorical paintings and stone carvings adorning the walls, it was hard to believe you were in a real room and not a set created for the purposes of a movie trailing those very same people. This etheral backdrop was made all the more surreal as guests, including Jessie Ware, Celeste and Francesca Hayward, floated up the stairs dressed in layers of Rocha's tulle, pearls and ribbon.
Following the news of the Queen's death, two big hitters – Burberry and Raf Simons – opted to forgo showing their collections this season, making Rocha's show, once again, the week's most sought-after seat. Through taking her signature blend of gothic femininity and reworking and building on her craft each and every season, the Irish designer, who was discovered – where else? – through Lulu Kennedy's Fashion East, has cemented herself as one of the UK's most exciting talents. Revealing in a pre-show interview that she wakes up the day after each presentation with a slew of new ideas for next season which she begins immediately working on makes sense – it's partly how she creates this cohesion throughout her collections and simultaneously an unmistakable brand identity, while ensuring she exists outside of trends (Miu Miu's satin ballet flats may be all over Instagram right now, but Rocha's platform Mary Janes, which she continued in additional colourways, are the real collector's item).
For Spring/Summer 2023, Rocha presented a surprisingly uplifting collection, a juxtaposition in both setting and mood from her recent shows – one set in a medieval church, the other inspired by a hauntingly dark childhood fable – infused with sequin flower-motifs (that have since made their Instagram debut courtesy of Alexa Chung), bow lace and hoards of her signature white poplin, tulle, and pearls.
If Rocha is aware of the buzz surrounding her, perhaps she's a woman who works best under pressure: her Spring/Summer 2023 collection was, according to almost everyone I spoke to in the days following its debut, her best to date, though a few superfans on TikTok were divided over whether the show might have been overstyled in parts. "Pulled apart, individually, I'm sure each piece will be exquisite," one quickly caveated.
Their observations are justified: Rocha's pieces are always layered over each other in such a way that when collections are released, it's truly when you can see each garment's intricate detailing or that, for example, the dresses adorned with flowing cream straps and silver buckles which, at first glance, look like a design embellishment – a nod to Rocha's ongoing utilitarian inspiration that works to offset her romanticism – are, in fact, a technical one. The hems can be adjusted to create a rushed effect and transform the dress from midi to mini, no doubt a nod to Junya Watanabe's Spring/Summer 2003 parachute collection, featuring the same straps and similar milkmaid aesthetics.
Continually surpassing the expectations set for her is no small feat given that interwoven throughout the runway was a full collection of menswear, Rocha's first proper foray into the category after testing the waters through her immediately sold-out collaboration with H&M last year. That first release simultanelously serving to introduce a whole new demographic to her creations and with it even more demand for co-ed clothes. Though menswear in name, Rocha's creations have always surpassed gender – as I type, I'm wearing a pair of her menswear trackpants and its matching hoodie – and this new release will no doubt be embraced in a similar way. Perfectly balancing femininity and masculinity and hard and soft elements with her debut range, Rocha sent models down the runway wearing her take on pearl-embossed school boy, white shirt dresses with floral motifs, skirts, and pretty much everything Harry Styles will be wearing come spring.
As the models took their final turn, Rocha herself appeared on the runway with tears in her eyes, where she was met with a standing ovation by everyone in the room, including decked out Gen Z muses, Flowerovlove and Griff — the only time I'd seen the entire room stand in admiration of a collection that season (or pretty much ever, for that matter). As we eagerly await its release, it's comforting to know that somewhere in London Simone Rocha is already hard at work on the next. As Australia's The Kimbino wrote underneath a TikTok compilation of runway moments, "She's just kind of unstoppable."