Ironically enough, in Simone Rocha’s early days showing at London Fashion Week, the most truly subversive thing you could do was go against the punk-influenced grain of the time. Back when the leather-and-chain-clad off-duty model ruled, Rocha presented a counter-narrative larded with lace, bows, pearls, and, yes, even the dreaded pink.

A look from the collaboration.

Courtesy of H&M

Cut to 2021, and it’s clear that Rocha was on the cusp of a larger shift in fashion, one that veered toward overtly feminine dressing as opposed to shying away from it. “Femininity can be strong. It can be powerful. It can be an armor,” the designer says. “And it doesn’t mean that you’re defined by something soft.” Her work has always focused on “looking at these things that build up all the facets of womanhood and girlhood” and using them as a Trojan horse for her own musings about gender and power. The female rites of passage narrated on her runway—via First Communion–like dresses, widow’s weeds, and even post-pregnancy swaddling—rarely show up in the work of designers other than Rei Kawakubo. It’s a potent reminder that “even if something has naïveté on the surface,” as she says, there’s usually something more lurking beneath. It was that very duality that caught the eye of H&M creative adviser Ann-Sofie Johansson, who spearheaded a collaboration with Rocha, out this month. “We’ve all fallen for the beauty of it,” she says of Rocha’s work, which, she says, “also has a little bit of a dark undertone.”

The 111-piece collection, which includes Rocha’s first-ever forays into menswear and childrenswear, represents “an opportunity for everybody to get Simone Rocha once,” the designer says. “To give people access and that opportunity not to be intimidated by the price tag, before you’re even intimidated by the piece.” She also wanted it to feel “authentic, well designed, and made to last,” and strove to re-create the delicate details her main collection has become known for. Some of the pieces draw on her archive, from the cloque dresses in her motherhood-inspired fall 2016 show to fall 2020’s paean to her native Ireland, complete with Aran sweaters. The collaboration is “just a taste of my signature, my identity,” she says, but that combination of sweetness and shadow “is something that is in lots of different women, and hopefully it can bring that out of them.” She calls the result “feminine, but not precious. That’s something that has always been instinctive to me. Being proud—and not having to sugarcoat it.”

Shop the collection here.

This article appears in the March 2021 issue of ELLE.

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