Rock and roll queen Jess Morris talks to Absolutely about fashion brand Rockins and how its distinct identity reinvented glam
Words Joy Montgomery
If you thought rock and roll was dead then clearly you haven’t met Jess Morris and Tim Rockins. Both tousle-haired and denim-clad, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d just stepped off the Glastonbury stage. In fact, this inimitable couple are the brains behind fashion brand Rockins. Eat your heart out Kooples, because these guys are the real deal.
We meet Jess Morris, one half of the design duo, in the sartorial melting pot that is a fashion PR’s headquarters. We pass rail upon rail of high-end wares before finding Morris standing sentinel beside a line-up of Rockins’ latest designs. Even in such neutral surroundings both designer and collection stand out against the neighbouring brands; a fashion microcosm that transports us to a world of glam rock, groupies and 1970s Bohemia.
In non-stretch denim, white tee and skinny scarf, Morris is a pure personification of the brand. ‘We were going to do vinyl for next season,’ she muses, spotting my high shine vinyl trousers. ‘About six months ago Julia Hobbs from Vogue told me “do vinyl and do it quick!” I just didn’t do it quick enough,’ she adds with a throaty laugh. This casual name-dropping of the stylish and the star-studded turns out to be a recurring theme throughout our conversation, littering her memories and offering a glimpse into the impressive social network of this fashion PR-turned-designer.
The Rockins love affair began after Tim and Jess met in Notting Hill, working as an illustrator/DJ and fashion PR respectively. Fast forward a few years and they find themselves at home with two kids wondering what to do next. Describing themselves as ‘very Good Life’, the creative pair were known for their homemade Christmas presents – everything from Monopoly boards to bespoke vinyl music covers – and one year they created a small run of 1920s inspired silk scarves. Little did they know that Rockins had just been born.
‘The scarves were our entry point into the fashion industry’, Morris explains. ‘Tim and I were always looking for those old 1920s scarves that people wore in the 1970s – it’s the aesthetic we love and what our rock and roll heroes were always wearing – but they just weren’t available. Because of this, within two to three seasons, our scarves were in so many stores. We caught the wave.’
It’s worth noting that among the group of friends who received the first Rockins scarf were fashion royalty Kate Moss, Jamie Hince and Katie England. As a result Rockins appeared in high profile fashion editorials and even around the neck of Mossy herself. Now that’s what you call promotional gold dust.
Following the success of the scarves, in 2016 Rockins moved into ready-to-wear, selling everything from printed tees and silk shirts to waistcoats and non-stretch denim. Irreverent yet stylish, luxe yet laid-back, the collection is a visual mash-up of Morris’ love of vintage fashion and her husband’s urban aesthetic. ‘We’re heavily influenced by music – it inspires everything we do’, Jess explains. ‘Tim is an ‘80s kid so brings a street vibe to the brand while I’m stuck in the ‘70s.’
This love for all things retro can be traced back to Morris’ childhood, spending Saturdays working at her Mum’s vintage store. ‘I always loved going to jumble sales – you would put your hand in a pile of clothes and come out with all these 1950s fabrics and Victorian lace,’ she recalls. ‘This was the 1970s and everyone looked fantastic because they were wearing second-hand clothes, it was like an amazing dressing up box.’
It’s clear that this immersion in the world of time-worn objects has become embedded in the brand’s DNA. How does Jess reconcile this nostalgia with the fast pace of the modern fashion industry? ‘Originally we said we’d only do two collections a year, all our denim would be well worn in and we’d spend time on customisation.’ She says with a wry smile. ‘But it’s tricky when you have an agent constantly asking “what’s next?” and stores wanting newness every month. There’s an impatience and demand in the fashion world that is unavoidable. We’re just trying to keep our charm in a commercial world without selling out.’
Navigating the demands of the contemporary fashion brand might be tricky, but Jess and Tim have fought to hold onto their ‘charm’. From the packing, which sees scarves folded into cassette boxes and 7-inch vinyls, to the ‘brandzine’, a print magazine inspired by old music fanzines, you can’t help but be impressed by the dedication to the Rockins identity.
Rockins husband, Rockins home and even Rockins kids – yup, check out the brand’s Instagram page – Jess Morris is certainly living the Rockins life. Yet despite her obvious successes Jess still suffers that all-too-familiar feeling of intruder syndrome. ‘Sometimes I feel like a fraud because I didn’t go to St Martins or train as a designer,’ she explains. ‘I had dinner with Vivienne [Westwood] on Monday night in Paris and she was like “I can’t believe you’re doing your own clothes…”’ she adds casually. With such distinctive style, intuitive design skill and impressive contacts to boot, something tells us she’s going to be just fine.