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Coco Rocha: the fashion transformer

May 24, 2016
By Hannah Yakobi
Photography by Tara West

She is fast. She is memorable. She is one-of-a-kind. Coco Rocha can strike a different pose in a second. Literally.

Unlike most other supermodels, who have made a career by having a single, very distinct look, Rocha is renowned for her ability to completely metamorphose from one photoshoot to the next, turn unrecognizable and pull it off every time.

To-date, she has also proudly taken on many roles: dancer, supermodel, global ambassador, wife, Mom and, most recently, a designer.

During her latest trip to Toronto, we caught up with Rocha an hour before she unveiled her new clothing line, CO+CO, to a small group of media and VIPs. Accompanied by her husband James Conran, and make-up artist and hairstylist Veronica Chu, Rocha was filled with energy and excitement about her new venture.

Here is what she told us.

Coco Rocha on the cover of The Innovation Issue.

Coco Rocha on the cover of The Innovation Issue.

HANNAH YAKOBI: You are launching your new line in Toronto today. What can you tell us about it?

COCO ROCHA: CO+CO is a partnership between the [Paragon Project, based in Los Angeles], myself and my husband. Paragon’s owner Debbie is amazing. She is actually Canadian. One day, she came up to me and said, “Have you ever thought of your own clothing line?”

I thought she was the perfect person to set myself up with. She has the contacts, the factories; she knows fabrics and materials. Whereas I know what I like, and I know my own point of view in style and what I think is really beautiful. I’ve always been interested in design, but I’ve never noticed the business side of fashion.

Now, we’ve been in stores, went to a launch party in L.A. with RONROBINSON, and the great news was two days later they were sold out of our pieces. So, we already have our re-sales and it’s really exciting to actually see it come off the floors, with people wearing it. I can’t wait to see how people style it.

You love vintage clothing, embellishments and jackets. Do your personal fashion preferences influence your work as a designer?

I love clothes. But on day one of drawing up pictures when our team came together, I was like, “I don’t like that shape. I personally wouldn’t wear that.” I kept saying I personally wouldn’t wear it, and then I realized: this doesn’t necessarily have to be what I would wear every day, all the time. So that’s when I stopped.

(points to her outfit) These pants, for example. This was drawn up in spring, and I didn’t like the idea of it. I thought: no one wants to be cut off in that spot or flared in that way. And then, I kept seeing the image and they kept drawing it, and all of the sudden I became obsessed with it.

Miuccia Prada said she’s designed things that she didn’t like at all and that you learn to actually love them. I’ve come to understand that completely — because if you design for yourself, it will be the same thing forever, and who wants that?

How did you come up with the names for the different pieces in the collection? I noticed they are all women’s names.

And they all start with ‘C’. That’s pretty much it.

Was it based on the people you knew?

No, just the cleverness of being ‘C’. For CO+CO, people may think it means Coco but, in fact, my husband has a huge part in [the company] and Conran is my married last name. So, CO+CO is the reference we use. Just a play on words.

We were working with a model yesterday, her name started with C. Our PR guy in the States is K and Co. It’s very weird, we thought we’d keep it with the ‘C’.

Except Veronica here, she starts with a ‘V’.

Veronica Chu: Last name starts with ‘C’ though.

(everyone laughs)

What can you tell me about what you’re wearing today?

This is from the fall collection. We will show spring/summer and fall in Toronto.

For department stores, we have three deliveries. Again, things I’m learning about: what does a delivery mean?

Our fall is a bit of a sports chic.

I love the detailing.

Thank you. This is our sports chic meets ‘70s: it’s about the high collar, but the fabric is very stretchy and gives you almost that yoga pant. Our materials are very sporty. In some of the other pieces there are heat-sealed seams. We use scuba material.

Our patterns and our prints have some element of tech. My husband does all the patterns himself, so it’s a family affair.

That’s fascinating because he has an art background.

Exactly, so he gets to play around on the computer and mess up images.

That must be interesting for him, it’s like a different texture. Mural, which is what he would normally do, versus fabric.

For sure, yeah. It’s been very long since the last time he’s actually painted. I wonder how it would be now for him to paint? But the fact is he’s got such a good eye for art.

We sometimes try to look at different patterns that he hasn’t done, but we’re always like, “We’re not impressed, James you do it.” Poor boy, he’s like, “Can I have another job?” He works so hard. We’re very proud of his art in our materials.

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You also work a lot with Veronica. How did you meet?

We met on a Hello! Canada magazine photoshoot. She did my make-up and she was going to do make-up for a little Canadian reality show that didn’t really kick off.

We became friends. Then she came and did The Face with me. It feels like we’ve known each other for 100 years, but it’s only been like four.

And you travel together?

We do travel a lot together.

These few months she hasn’t lived at our house that much. She has her new house, so she’s actually living in it.

Veronica: It’s like four fast tracked years; 24-hours, around-the-clock.

So you’re based in New York as well?

Veronica: No, I’m based in Toronto.

So, when she comes, she stays at my house.

Veronica: Canadian import?

Yes. I don’t know. Export? That sounds right.

(both chuckle)

Coco, during this trip to Toronto, you have also been coaching other models on how to walk down the runway and pose. Throughout your career, you’ve published the Study of Pose, which features 1,000 poses by you. You also used to dance. How do you think this has influenced your ability to move so quickly when modelling?

I think modeling is a performance. Many models don’t take it that way, they just think: “I’m a model, I’m cool.” I don’t know what they really think of it, it’s like its own category. But it is a performance, so you’re supposed to be the muse, you’re supposed to be the inspiration to the clothes and also inspire everyone in the room.

Yes, the clothes do a lot of talking, but if you are stiff, if you don’t give them that performance to the music, they don’t really remember the clothes, they don’t really remember anything. They just remember an awkward girl walking down the runway.

That’s what I try to remind girls — you are a very important part of this, you make the clothes come alive.

I remember Jean Paul Gaultier, in my book, mentioned that the one show he thinks he failed the most was when he put all clothes on kind of like a conveyor belt. There were no models, and he said it ruined it because there was no life in it.

During the ‘80s and ‘90s, the magazine industry was the primary medium for all supermodels. In many cases, it helped them launch their careers. Fast forward to now, how do you think this has changed?

When I started, there was a backlash on supermodels. There was no notice of what the model is. Now, we’ve come full circle — you know exactly who your models are: for example, Kendall [Jenner], Gigi and Bella Hadid. Social media shows that these people are loved and respected, and have a following. They deserve to be on the covers of magazines.

Like models, celebrities are kind of the same thing — if you are passionate about a movie or a song, it’s because of the person who created it. You can equally be passionate about fashion and the models behind it.

You’ve been extensively using the modeling platform for advocacy work. There have been a lot of changes in the industry in the last few years; in terms of improved working conditions for models, for example. There’s still a lot of work to be done. What do you think we should do next?

We have to stop using titles. There’s the “plus-size model”, there’s the “fashion model”, the “commercial model”, the “petite model”. With actresses, you don’t hear that. You don’t hear about an actress that is a “plus-size actress”. And she’s not getting roles because she’s a “tiny actress”. That’s not it — it’s the talent.

Models are talented. It’s a hard job. These girls are told to leave their families, go to work, fly somewhere, fly back, fly somewhere else. You’re not getting a day off. A flight is not a day off. And then you meet with people you’ve never met before, in a country you’ve probably visited once or twice, and are expected to be very happy, ready to work, and perform for 15 hours with no attitude. And yet, still inspire people throughout the whole thing.

I think we have definitely improved, but I still don’t like to hear words like “I want a ‘real girl’ on the runway” or in a magazine. Show me a real girl. I don’t know why I’m not a real girl: I eat like you, I had a baby like you, I have a family and friends like you. Just because I’m skinny doesn’t mean I’ve made myself like this.

Some women can’t lose weight, some women can’t gain weight, it’s just a natural thing. We don’t say “less of skinny people” — that’s rude. So why would we ever say “less of curvy girls”? That’s rude as well.

We do need variety — that’s what we need and that’s a word we can use. Variety is great!

Ioni helping me get ready for tonight's #DKMS gala! #houseofconran #mastercloset @zacposen

A photo posted by Coco Rocha (@cocorocha) on


Last question — I’m curious about your daughter’s name. I read that it has a Scottish background. Her name is Ioni James, how did you pick those two names?

With Ioni — we just liked it. I think we found a good, unique, interesting name.

We went through thousands and thousands of names. I really mean thousands. We really wanted something special, so people would say, “How did you think of that name?” My name is like that too.

My husband’s name is James, so if it was a girl, she would have his name too. If it was a boy, he would have one of my names, as a boy’s version. We thought it would be cute to keep that tradition if we ever have a boy!

CO+CO, select looks, spring/summer and fall/winter 2016 collections

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FAJO would like to extend a special thank you to Spot 6 Management, Cynthia Cully and Matti Matyashvili. Founded by industry expert Cynthia Cully, Spot 6 Management launched in 2009 and is one of the most sought-after modeling agencies in Canada. Spot 6 commits to core values of strong management for models, ethical practices and professionalism with their clients. Spot 6 represents some of the most current and exciting models worldwide, including: supermodel and Canadian icon Coco Rocha, Gracie Van Gastel, Amanda Nimmo, Felix Bujo, and several top new faces each season, such as rising stars Logan Patterson, Kayla Clarke and Matthew Jackman. Spot 6 models have worked for Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Holt Renfrew and TopShop; walked the runway for many notable designers; and graced the covers and pages of international publications, such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Teen Vogue, Dazed & Confused, Love Magazine, Marie Claire, Seventeen, i-D, VMan and GQ.

FAJO would also like to extend a special thank you to Luckee Restaurant for providing a location for this photoshoot.

Additional photo credits: photo of Coco Rocha with Zac Posen by FAJO’s Janine Silver, photo of Coco Rocha wit Ioni via Coco Rocha’s Instagram account.

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