Diaspora diaries

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 November, 2010, 12:00am

As a baby, fashion designer Simone Rocha was tucked up in a Moses basket and placed under clothes rails backstage at her father, John Rocha's, catwalk shows. So there was every chance she might one day catch the fashion bug and launch her own collection.

'Of course you think you should rebel and every teenager has their moments but the reality is that, if something is part of you, you should do it,' she says. 'I have worked backstage at London Fashion Week since I was 12 and, when I was 16, I started really assisting my parents in their studio.'

But in the six months leading up to September's fashion week, Rocha, now 24, was working hard in her own studio, prepar- ing her debut collection. And, instead of watching her father's runway show, her father was there fondly watching hers.

One of the world's top fashion designers, John Rocha was born in Hong Kong, the son of a Portuguese father and a Chinese mother who was a refugee from the mainland. He has traced his interest in design to watching his dressmaker grandmother work in the family's small, 11th-floor flat. He moved to London to study at Croydon College's school of art and eventually settled in Ireland, where Simone was born.

Hers was a poignant fashion debut, since her collection was inspired by childhood visits to Hong Kong. She says the Irish attitude towards death is very different to that of the Chinese and she found inspiration during a visit to her grandfather's grave in Hong Kong - in the flowers and the white clothes worn by those in mourning.

Aesthetically, she says, her style is different to that of her father.

'We are attracted to different things. His work is more organic and mine is stripped back,' she explains. 'My mother [Odette] has more feminine tastes and is attracted to colour, and dad is interested in cleaner, sharper things. His collections are a blend of them both.'

The younger Rocha likes playing with deconstruction and the contradiction between masculine and feminine romance.

Simone and her brother, Max, were raised in Dublin. She says she admires the Irish qualities of openness and curiosity and describes Hong Kong as feeling very homey 'even though it is a completely different type of city'. She has a lot of cousins here.

'Having roots there makes me feel connected,' she says.

Rocha graduated with an MA in fashion from London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, in February, and was approached by Lulu Kennedy of Fashion East at her graduation show. Kennedy is a star-maker who scouts out new talent and gives them a platform at Fashion Week.

'For a young designer, it is so daunting [to stage a show],' Rocha says, 'but, if you have this support behind you, it isn't as scary.'