John Rocha is a designer that proves that talent can always be rediscovered. Originally from Hong Kong and based in Dublin for many years, Rocha rose to prominence in the 1990’s when he was awarded Designer of the Year in 1993 at the British Fashion Awards. There followed a heady period of activity in which Rocha achieved the uneasy success of, having initially been recognised by the fashion cognoscenti, was almost immediately taken to the bosom of the broadest British –and Irish- public. Frequent appearances on popular television shows and lucrative collaborations with mainstream department stores followed. In fact, no one could ever question that Rocha has been one of the most financially successful British designers of his generation and most definitely the most successful Irish fashion designer in living memory. With a whole series of clever business moves that have persisted – even including lending his talents and kudos to the relaunch of the renowned Irish Waterford Crystal- it’s obvious why he was awarded the Ernst and Young Irish Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in 2008.
However, as many have observed, the fashion world is a whimsical beast and exactly who and how the movers and shakers at Fashionista Central draw their conclusions about who is hot and who is not is as difficult as trying to decipher the hand gestures of a Balinese dance. Though such things are rarely voiced, there is almost a sense that John Rocha’s popularity – particularly with a mainstream British and Irish public- constituted some form of offence to the fashion gods: he had gone mainstream, perhaps even sold out and, therefore, rarely warranted coverage in the self-declared cutting-edge fashion press within years of his astronomical success in real market terms.
In much that same way that the reasons for which one might seem to fall from grace are inexplicable or unspoken, so too are some of the reasons for a return to the fold of the hip and happening designers. Perhaps it’s because fashion is intrinsically fickle and things go in cycles. Perhaps it’s because the fashion world simply can no longer afford to ignore Rocha’s broad entrepreneurial success. Or perhaps, leaving cynicism aside, it is because a new generation of fashion buyers and editors have approached John Rocha afresh and reminded themselves that there was a clear reason for his early recognition as a talented designer after all. And, it may even be that John Rocha himself, his business success assured and need to keep a more mainstream consumer happy reduced, has returned to producing more daring and experimental designs of the kind that characterised his first emergence as a notable designer.
Regardless of the exact mechanism, John Rocha has certainly made a comeback that places his collections in some of the trendiest boutiques from Antwerp to New York, not to mention his London flagship store in Dover Street and back on the pages of some of the most important and trendiest magazines.
Designing for both men and women, recent collections have seen Rocha working with stark black and white palette, mixed in with the deep earth tones and subtle pales shades of some of the natural high-quality Irish materials that he has often worked into his garments. Furthermore, this is all mixed up with flowing, theatrical silhouettes that use a much more directional and devil-may-care attitude to how garments are cut and shaped. This is very much in evidence in his current menswear collections with its luxurious palomino skin coats, taking their form for the natural shapes of the hide and falling open over looks constructed of layering garments in fitted but comfortable fabrics.
The womenswear collection sees a similarly daring approach to silhouette, but here the mood is one of Belle Epoque and chic 1950’s cocktail dresses caught up in some strange Pierrot Ball from the 1920’s or commedia dell’arte troupe from the nineteenth century running riot at a traditional country festival. It’s a heady combination of glossy satins, lace, subtle decoration, ruffles and natural wefts. Theatricality, femininity and a flirtation with the notion of national costumes – all fitting perfectly with Rocha’s penchant for traditional crafts as part of fashion- create garments that are romantic, do not follow obvious trends and yet, are unexpectedly comfortable.
All in all, the fashionistas no longer have any excuse to ignore John Rocha.