No breath of fresh Eire for Paris

John Rocha, the Dublin-based designer, has opted to present his new collection in a small tent outside the Natural History Museum in London.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Next week sees the autumn/winter ready-to-wear shows kick off in London before moving on to Milan, Paris and New York. But it is in Dublin this week that things are getting hectic, at John Rocha's Temple Bar studio. For the past three seasons Rocha, the Chinese-Portuguese designer who has made his home in Ireland, has shown his womenswear in Paris. Next Wednesday, however, he makes a welcome return to the London tents outside the Natural History Museum. And predictably for Rocha, one of the most self-effacing designers who has ever strolled the catwalk, he will be showing in the smallest of the two tents.

Since January, Rocha has had just one day's holiday. He showed his menswear in Paris at the end of January, but was lured back to London when he discovered that the shows there will kick off the season, before the press and buyers become too jaded at Milan and Paris. Katharine Hamnett made the same decision to return to London from Milan last season, but Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Rifat Ozbek and Ghost continue to show abroad.

Rocha sells in 28 different countries, including his native Hong Kong, and is expecting his turnover to be close to pounds 5m this year. For him, showing here makes perfect sense: the Paris schedule is increasingly overcrowded, while in London he will enjoy the support of the press and will have a video to show his buyers in Milan and Paris. Rocha is excited to be part of the London scene, which he feels has tremendous energy right now.

"My heart is in London. It suits my spirit and fashion very well. I would happily show here for ever more," he says. "There is a market here for beautiful clothes as well as funky clothes." Just because he might go out for dinner with London's wild card Alexander McQueen (as he did the night of our interview), it does not mean that his clothes will suddenly become dangerous and avant-garde.

His collection will refer to the past, but at the same time will be resolutely modern. "Long is coming back. I feel very strongly about that," he says. There will be no gimmickry, just strong colours - green, purple and bright yellow. And he will mix synthetic and natural fabrics. His aim? "To make women look beautiful." His wife and business partner, Odette, is a natural muse and inspiration - a working woman who looks contemporary without being hard-edged and aggressive.

Rocha's measured success has not happened overnight. At the age of 18 he left the council flat in Hong Kong, where his Chinese mother and Portuguese father still live, and came to London to study psychiatric nursing; then he changed his mind and decided to go to fashion college. His first label, Chinatown, set up in 1983, was a victim of its own success and overexpanded to the point of bankruptcy. But in 1990, having learnt from his mistakes, he set up in business under his own name. Three years later he was named Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.

The Rocha spring/summer collection, shown here and now filtering into the shops, has a lightness and charm that is his trademark. There is soft tailoring, and delicate dresses and shirts made of silk organza, hand- painted with tiny liquid-nylon daisies, as well as shiny satin suits for evening. Rocha's clothes have a hand-finished feel. This is a result, in part, of working in a city that does not live and breathe fashion: "In Dublin there's a feel-good factor - everybody's very up." And when you wear a Rocha shirt in sunshine yellow, that feel-good factor rubs off.

Photographs: Heather Favell

Styling: Jo Adams

Hair & make-up: Debbie Cronin

Model: Genevieve at Select

Top left: Violet hand-made silk dress with hand-painted daisies, pounds 295, cream glazed-cotton rain mac, pounds 315

Top right: yellow hand-made silk cap-sleeve shirt with hand-painted daisies, pounds 195, and skirt, pounds 195,

Main picture: Gold linen dupion jacket, pounds 340, trousers, pounds 144, white sateen shirt, pounds 97

Stockists: Liberty, Regent Street, W1; Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1; Whistles, St Christopher's Place, W1, and Sloane Square, SW1; Mango, 19 St Leonards Road, Windsor; Strand, 27 Queen Victoria Street, Leeds; Sunday Best, 56A/B Bank Street, Rawtenstall, Lancashire. Inquiries 0171- 734 0123

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