Having now retired from the fashion catwalk, John Rocha is still enjoying a very creative design life, with projects all over the world
John Rocha’s timeless designs have won him countless accolades, including a CBE for his contribution to the fashion industry. Born in Hong Kong of Chinese and Portuguese parents, he moved to London in the 1970s to study fashion after a brief period in nursing. After making his mark with his Chinatown label in Dublin in the 1980s, Rocha went on to attain worldwide fame and has since taken his design skills into several other mediums, including architecture and interior design – he has worked on the décor for several projects in Liverpool, Dublin and Budapest. His far-reaching empire now extends into jewellery, eyewear, menswear, diffusion lines for Debenhams and a collaboration with Waterford Crystal. Rocha, who also has a home in Provence, has lived in Dublin for over 20 years, working closely with his wife and business partner, Odette. They have two children, Max and Simone, who is now a successful designer in her own right.
How would you describe your design philosophy?
It is centred on a wish to make beautiful things that have a life, and that add pleasure to people’s lives, whether it’s a dress, a room or a teacup.
To what extent does travel influence your work?
I am lucky that I have always travelled a lot, and go home to Hong Kong at least once a year. Since I retired from the catwalk (in 2014) I have been able to travel at times that before would have been out of the question because of the nature of the Fashion Week calendar. As always with my travels I find it hugely inspirational – the landscapes, the people and the culture all influence me.
What is your favourite building in the world?
Without a doubt it is Tadao Ando’s Church of Light near Osaka in Japan.
And your favourite building in Dublin?
I think probably the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), it’s housed in an old hospital, and the spaces are just beautiful.
Tell us about the crystal chapel you designed at Chateau La Coste Vineyard in Provence?
I was asked to create an installation for the gardens and so we built a chapel in the greenery. From the outside it is barely visible with the entire exterior planted to disguise it in the hedges. You enter through a hidden door and you find a jewel – literally – as the black slate walls are smothered in crystal drops and the centre point is a rendition of an ancient high cross from Ireland.
Does this sort of project excite you most?
I really enjoyed working on it, and I love that it’s part of the Chateau’s gardens – it’s a very special place. I think different projects bring their own excitements. Creating spaces for people to live in is also really exciting as you are building spaces for them to spend their lives in and for them to call home.
What are your homes like in Dublin and in Provence?
They are both calm spaces with essentially the same palettes of colour and texture: light stone floors, broken white walls and furniture in wood, glass and linen. And decorated with things from my travels such as African stools, tribal fabrics and pictures. I’ve a great interest in modern art, painting, sculpture and photography, and have been lucky enough to collect beautiful pieces over time. I particularly love the work of Francis Bacon and the photography of Peter Beard.
What is your most prized piece in your home? It’s my bath which we had carved out a huge chunk of limestone. It opens out onto a little private terrace, and so on a sunny day I can open the doors, then lie in the bath and watch the sky.
The RJR. John Rocha collection is available at debenhams.com
Article by: Susan Springate