John Rocha’s Biggest Love: Fashion



Every season during London Fashion Week (LFW), a horde of models, fashion editors and photographers spend much of their time migrating from one catwalk show to another. Yet there is one show that many, including myself, look forward to seeing; that of John Rocha, LFW veteran and celebrated British designer.


John Rocha is one of those success stories you want to share again and again. Half Portuguese and half Chinese, Rocha grew up in Hong Kong in a big family of eight kids. He came from Hong Kong to England in 1971, with just few pounds in his pocket, to study psychiatric nursing. But, living in London he soon discovered his true passion – fashion, which he decided to pursue professionally. In 1977 Rocha finished Croydon College of Art and Design with a graduate collection inspired by Irish hand-woven linen and wool. The Irish Trade Board was so impressed with the work of a young designer, that they invited Rocha to visit Ireland, which he now calls home.

Today Rocha is one of the biggest and most celebrated UK designers. With almost 30 years of experience, he holds many prestigious awards, including 1994 ‘British Designer of the Year’ and 2002 ‘Commander of the British Empire’ title in recognition of his contribution to British design. But beyond being a talented designer, he is also a successful businessman, who carries his signature style of simplicity and minimalism into other ventures. Rocha’s business ‘empire’ includes clothing and jewellery lines, crystal and homeware, architecture and interior design.

As I step into his Dover Street store, which shares same building as his London apartment, I see immediately the very diverse world of John Rocha. Clean white walls and American walnut flooring serve as a blank canvas for his elegant clothes, accessories and crystalware. Everything is perfectly arranged with great precision, yet with a personal touch. Here you can see pieces from John’s private collection of Asian art (paintings by Zhang Xiaogang and a PVC kimono by Wang Jin), wooden fertility dolls from Cameroon, and books on art, photography and architecture, picked by John and his wife, Odette. Perhaps it should not be surprising to see architectural texts here; Rocha also owns an architectural studio, which is involved in a variety of business and residential property schemes, in the UK and internationally. His latest project is luxury apartments in Budapest, Hungary.

Something that catches my attention are sparkling mirror frames and store panels, apparently handmade with Waterford crystals by Rocha and his family. In fact, Rocha’s collaboration with Waterford has been truly successful – his crystal collection has been well received and continuously expanding since its launch in 1997. There are also some pieces on display from Rocha’s contemporary jewellery line, launched in 2002. Made out of silver and gold, it features beautiful nature-inspired and folkloric designs (think flowers, butterflies, stones, hearts and stars). But despite such a variety of interests, Rocha himself admits that fashion is his first and biggest love, without which he wouldn’t be involved in other businesses.

The fashion outlook for this fall season from John Rocha is all about juxtaposition – tender with harsh, elegant with sporty, contemporary with traditional – reflecting the dualities and complexity of a modern woman. Airy and light georgette, lace and silk are paired with heavier velvet, felted wools, cashmere, and exotic marabou and Mongolian lambskin. Rocha’s long-lasting appreciation for traditional handcrafts, original textures and exquisite detailing intertwines elegantly with his modern, somewhat edgy silhouettes. Puffy silk taffeta dresses with intricate handwork are followed by lean sporty dresses with geometric patterns in shades of green, gold and navy, inspired by Sean Scully’s paintings. By mixing sheer georgette and lace skirts with leather jackets, John Rocha wanted to create “an atmosphere of rock and roll romanticism”.

Rocha’s design aesthetic is all about simple, but memorable pieces, without drama effect. Maybe that’s why in his runway collections he continues to use his signature black colour which, according to Rocha, allows one to focus on the person and not their clothes. The understated chic, paired with great business sense, is what makes him one of the most successful fashion designers today. And, along with many, I look forward to seeing his new sartorial experiments at the LFW Spring/Summer 2013 show. Whatever it will be, I know I won’t be disappointed…

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* Special thanks to London’s John Rocha store manager, Annika Ljungberg, for providing additional information.

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