21-Jul, 17:34

12:43, March 13 193 0

2017-03-13 12:43:03
Critical Shopper: There’s Nothing to Fear at Simone Rocha

Right inside the British designer Simone Rocha’s new store, on Wooster Street in SoHo, is a sculpture by the Chinese artist Ren Ri: a wall of stacked plexiglass cubes filled with shapely honeycombs. The artist lets the bees sculpt, rotating hives in progress so that the colony changes direction as it builds. The hives’ folded shapes remind me of thick clothes balled up.

The honeycombs are beautiful, I can see that, and yet my body is in fear mode, which means hot skin, lungs shrunk like socks and a blood-borne message: Run.

Fear of small clusters of holes in nature is called trypophobia, but from what I can read on the internet (it’s difficult to research because articles about this odd but common fear are littered with images, of lotus pods, English muffins and honeycomb), it’s less a trauma or culture-inspired phobia and more a leftover primal reaction.

In the Simone Rocha store, there is nothing real to fear. The single room is high and airy, its design is thoughtful and inviting, and the clothes are as narratively mesmerizing and original as the sequence of Louise Bourgeois paintings on the back wall. Still, my heart clenches.

“Have people told you this sculpture makes them want to die?” is how I greet the saleswoman in this shop. She says no with a kind smile.

I let my friend Audrey choose something to try on while I try to forget what I’ve seen and temper the misspent adrenaline. She is drawn to a pair of white perforated leather sneakers ($585), which look as if someone had folded lace napkins into shoes, a very clever table trick. We also admire a pair of leather boots with a Perspex heel ($1,149) and a pair of slides with rose bouclé fabric bunched across the strap ($620).

There are Perspex display cases all around the store. Focus on the hard and smooth. I stare at a set of broderie anglaise dresses hung in a cylindrical cage. I open the door and step in, and touch the intricate pattern of holes in the white fabric. (They’re not organic enough to freak me out.)

Ms. Rocha’s clothes are airy and all frills. She takes the girliest accents (bows, ruffles, puffy sleeves — all pretty high on my list of fashion fears) and reclaims them. Up close, her fabrications are enchanting: Most pieces in the store that come in chiffon, gabardine or cotton poplin also come in tulle in the same cut. It’s as if each of the designer’s ideas came to her first as a ghost.

Simone Rocha introduced her namesake label in 2010, right after graduating from Central Saint Martins in London. In 2015, she opened a store there, and in 2016, she won the British Fashion Council’s women’s wear designer of the year award. A cute fact: Ms. Rocha’s father, the fashion designer John Rocha, won the same award in 1993. The two designed the interior of the store together.

Molding that lines the wall is shaped like budded roses, designed by Ms. Rocha herself. Looking at her designs, you would think her name means rose, but in fact it is Portuguese for “rock.” Audrey and I set ourselves down a little too hard on the white benches: The stone is so soft it looks plush.

Also solid: the enormous polished onyx slab that serves as the counter at the back of the store.

I open the dressing room door and am confronted with a paper chair. It’s carved, with exposed holes like stacked cardboard viewed from the side. It looks a lot like … honeycomb. The saleswoman quickly comes in and takes the chair out. “It’s so light!” she says.

I try on a black skirt with ruffles spiraling down from the waist like M. C. Escher stairs ($1,250). By the bottom, they slump off, draping in strips. An apathetic ruffle is one of the funnier wordless jokes that can be made.

On top, I try a boxy little shirt with oversize half-cap sleeves that rest like an abbreviated cape ($1,250).

“What happens if you flap like a bird?” Audrey asks from the stone bench.

She tries on a pair of gray Prince of Wales checked pants ($900), with ruffles looping down the thighs where punk suspenders might hang. I decide to tackle a fashion fear: poof sleeves. On the hanger, the nude sheer trench looks as if its sleeves are exaggerated and flouncy. On, it’s clear they’re cut to cup the shoulders, and the effect of the extra fabric is that of a hugging shawl built into the construction ($1,280). Nothing to fear here, nor in a black-and-red-checkered chiffon dress with a ruffled bib ($2,350).

We circle the jewelry set out on cushions on the Perspex display columns. Simone Rocha’s jewelry is more affordable than her clothes (though I think it’s cool she hasn’t succumbed to setting out a stack of T-shirts; cotton poplin and earrings under $1,000 was her retail compromise). Audrey tries on a magnetic single earring; two crystal globs snap onto her ear from either side ($520). It looks as if she has grown her own rock candy.

I try a single smooth stone strung on a long chain ($175). It’s lovely, almost long enough to dangle in front of my heart, now beating regularly. I take a deep breath.