Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
Alexandra O’Neill’s designs have offered a unique mix of modern shapes, a timeless feeling, and what she calls “celestial romanticism.” Her New York–based label Markarian is thoughtfully designed, with each garment made to order, all fabric scraps recycled, and a recent introduction of sustainable knitwear. A lover of art, architecture, and literature, O’Neill looked to Ovid’s Metamorphoses for the Markarian Fall/Winter 2021 collection, which is full of clothes that are comfortable while making a statement. Along with the rich, sculptural Markarian jewelry collection, these are looks that will get you excited about dressing up again.
Following her much-discussed success in dressing First Lady Dr. Jill Biden for the inauguration earlier this year, O’Neill talked with Whitewall about playing with fun and fantasy while still offering moments of practicality for the new way we are living.
WHITEWALL: How did you arrive at the inspiration for Markarian’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection, Ovid’s Metamorphoses?
ALEXANDRA O’NEILL: I have always loved ancient Roman art, architecture, and literature. Metamorphoses seemed particularly relevant to the changes we see across the globe. Ovid paints vivid pictures of transformation triggered by challenges, strife, and turmoil, often suggesting that art and creation allow one to transcend suffering. I found solace in creating this collection over the past few months and am excited to share it with our clients.
WW: How did that inform your choice of material, palette, and silhouette?
AO: Multidimensional fabrics and contrasting colors form pieces with draped silhouettes, structured column-like details, and relaxed fts. Heavy gold jewelry and jeweled hairpieces round out the collection, evoking a romanticized view of Roman myth and architecture. The way people are living their lives and how they dress for it has changed. I wanted these pieces to be able to ft into our new lifestyles and to be worn in a way that felt right for each individual. I mixed these more practical elements with some pieces that are pure fun and fantasy.
WW: How are you imagining the Markarian wearer reemerging this fall? How do you want them to feel in the collection?
AO: I think that people are happy to be out and doing things again. I do think that we are used to a level of comfort when it comes to dressing that I do not think will go away anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that you have to wear sweatpants. Our separates and knitwear are perfectly paired together or mixed and matched with other pieces from your wardrobe. I want our clients to feel excited about clothing and dressing up again!
WW: Why was it important for you to mix practical items with fantasy?
AO: There was a need for comfort and a sense of practicality the past year. I wanted to make sure that we were offering something that made sense for the way we are currently living. Our more practical pieces in this collection are still elevated but have a sense of ease to them. I also wanted to give our girl something aspirational to get excited about, which is why we mixed in our more fantastical pieces.
WW: For the season, you also introduced sustainable knitwear. Can you tell us about these pieces, and how overall you consider sustainability within Markarian?
AO: We are mindful of the impact that fashion has on the environment and pick sustainable options and practices. All of our knitwear is made from recycled cashmere and sustainable mohair and is made in L.A. All of our pieces are made to order in an effort to reduce waste. We recycle all of our fabric scraps and work with sustainable packaging. We have chosen to work in a way that is very slow fashion, creating pieces that are meant to last and remain in your wardrobe for years to come.
WW: How do you approach designing the accessories and jewelry pieces that accompany the collection? Is there a similar starting point, inspiration, mood?
AO: We start with the main collection and then draw inspiration and elements from there. We work with the most incredible company called Ciner, which has been making jewelry in New York City for over a hundred years.
WW: You recently shared that you are part of the IMG Fashion Alliance, shaping the future of New York Fashion Week. Can you tell us about your involvement and the importance of New York Fashion Week for you as a designer and the greater community?
AO: From a practical standpoint, fashion is the second largest industry in New York City and supports numerous jobs and people. In addition to that, I think it is so important to support the artisans and craft that has been the core of fashion. The Garment Center and its incredible artisans have been critical to the success of Markarian and numerous other brands. I am so proud to be a part of this group of designers committed to New York Fashion Week and celebrating New York’s unstoppable fashion industry. After such a difficult year, what better way is there to come together than New York Fashion Week showcasing the wealth of talent in this city? This alliance will help build and strengthen bonds throughout all of New York City’s creative industries for the seasons to come.
WW: How do you see the role of fashion week evolving, whether as a result of the pandemic or other factors?
AO: I think New York Fashion Week will continue to be important to the industry and New York City. It brings in so much excitement and revenue to the city. I think in the future there will be increasing importance on the digital aspect of fashion week.
WW: You were an art history major and draw inspiration from a range of places, from the cosmos to ancient Rome. Without asking to give too much away for next season, what is inspiring you creatively at the moment?
AO: I am feeling inspired by a sense of old-world glamour and doing things at a slower and more intentional pace at the moment. After dressing down for over a year, I can’t wait to dress up again!