For Simone Rocha’s Spring Summer 2024 catwalk presentation, Irish artist and set designer Rory Mullen created the skeleton of a white wedding chapel adorned with tin angels.
“Simone had the idea of it being a skeleton structure from the beginning; a ghost of a building, a moveable monument,” Mullen told Dezeen.
For the set, Mullen created a wedding chapel inspired by American artist William Christenberry’s sculptures of dilapidated, community-built wooden churches and a 19th-century portable church from County Clare in Ireland known as the Little Ark of Kilbaha.
The Little Ark is a tiny Catholic church on wheels, which was built to be portable at a time when it was forbidden to have permanent Catholic churches in Ireland.
Mullen described the installation for the Rocha show as “an amalgamation of those two references, with some Amish barn buildings thrown in.”
“We finished installing it at 1:00pm on show day and started deinstalling it at 5:00pm the same day – so there are some similarities with the Little Ark; up went the structure and then we wheeled it away,” he said.
I love the temporary aspect of set design for fashion shows: feverishly set up, here comes everybody, the show happens and then it all goes back in the van. Pure spectacle! Like a travelling circus,” Mullen said.
The theme of Rocha’s collection for Spring Summer 2024 was weddings and their anniversaries, with looks referencing the corresponding different traditional gifts, from leather for the third year, through to silver for 25 and signature Rocha pearls for 30, which adorned bespoke Crocs.
Mullen’s chapel, in the centre of the show space, presided over the parading models. The timber frame of the simple chapel was decorated with trumpeting angels, cut-out in two-dimensional tin shapes, intended to echo weathervanes.
Lit internally, the chapel acted like a lantern that cast shadows across the show space before the lights came up and the models walked around the structure.
The show was held in the intimate venue of one of the English Ballet’s rehearsal spaces in Canning Town, London. Rather than the wedding itself, the idea for the collection was the wedding rehearsal – often held the day before.
This was the first time Mullen rehearsed his set design by making scale models, explaining that he “knew from making the model that the structure would have to be big to face up to such an imposing space.”
“If the scale was wrong it could have just looked like a tiny shed sitting in the middle of a giant room,” he said.
Mullen’s way of working has changed over his career, according to the designer.
“When I started working with set design (some of the work entailed sourcing a sofa, for example) I was very precious and thought that it was completely different to my artistic practice,” he explained.
“But now, especially having worked with people like Simone where you are given the opportunity to really have your creative voice heard – to push things with ambition and scale, to use all my skills from drawing, painting and designing, now I don’t differentiate between the two. I’m making things and being creative.
For the Spring Summer 2024 show, Rocha had a very clear idea of what she wanted to create with the set, but was also very open to Mullen “trying to place my own interpretation within and alongside her ideas”.
“I think because we are friends we have a good creative relationship – I don’t see it as ‘working with a luxury brand’ – it has been a really positive creative experience,” Mullen said.
Many of the artists Mullen is inspired by – like Mark Manders, Mike Nelson, Gregor Schneider and John Bock – work in architectural contexts, “delineating space and marking out a world of their own,” according to Mullen.
“They all create false environments and multiple rooms; highly theatrical,” he said. “They finish a room and then knock a hole in the wall to create another – like the Hackney mole man – another hero!”
Mullen has previously worked with Simone Rocha on a pop-up installation of giant inflatable flowers at Dover Street Market.
Other fashion show set design recently featured on Dezeen includes a mechanical set for Dior and slime dripping from the ceiling of a Prada catwalk set.