Theia is inspired by the Greek Goddess of the same name whose gift was light and everything she looked upon glittered, becoming luminous and radiant. We caught up with Don O'Neill at his studio to talk about Ireland, glitter and sequins, and his inspiration.
Cannon: How has your brand grown since its first runway show in Fall 2012?
Don O'Neill: The Impact of the runway show has helped propel the brand globally. [We had] an amazing article in the Wall Street Journal by Christina Binkley covering the Theia show. It’s truly rewarding to see all that hard work pay off.
C: Along with "bringing out every woman's inner goddess," what other attitudes and attributes do you believe your clothes posses?
DO: Theia not only brings out a woman’s inner goddess, the clothes are designed to be chic and elegant. The collection is made using the finest European fabrics that are normally found on dresses that cost 3 and 4 times more at retail. Each dress is thought through from design to fabric, ensuring that the garment is flattering, beautifully made and the embroidery is exquisite in fine detail.
C: Does your Irish background influence the clothing you design?
DO: My Irish background hugely influences my work. I grew up in an enchanted picture postcard perfect seaside village on the west coast of Ireland, called Ballyheigue. My home was perched on a cliff top against which ferocious winter storms hurled seaweed against our bedroom windows. The ruins of a centuries old haunted castle was on the other side of our house. The Mast of a 17th century Spanish Galleon shipwrecked on the beach still protruded up out of the beach where it sunk into the sands. Fantastically flaming sunsets lit the skies every night in a mind-blowing show of kaleidoscopic color and magical waves crested in the bay above a submerged church from a millennia ago.
With all this wonder and magic, mixed with a mother who loved fashion, it was fertile ground for the budding imagination of a young, creative little boy who dreamed of making dresses from that dazzling sunlight reflected across the shimmering bay in front of my bedroom window!
C: I love Ireland! My lovely parents are from there. Where did your fascination with the Greek Goddess, Athena come from?
DO: Athena was a response to the world in state in which we find it; financial distress, rising unemployment, uncertain futures. The dark clouds of fear that were forming in my psyche summoned Athena to inspire and protect. She realized the horrors and destructive cost of lengthy wars. She always emerged victorious. I wanted the Theia woman to feel inspired by this strength.
C: Is there a specific style of dresses that drives you the most?
DO: Gowns! The drama, the long lines of flowing skirts, they are the most transformative of dresses. They allow women to step into dream, an alter ego, to feel like a goddess, with rich, beautiful fabric swirling around her legs, yards of luscious printed silk chiffon.
C: Your designs are being sold in 350+ stores around the world. Tell us about that!
DO: The reach of Theia around the world is amazing and literally humbles me as a designer. There are days when I struggle with my gift, days when it seems to abandon me. Then, I think about all those women who love what Don O’Neill designs, that appreciate all my nail biting, and the second guessing of myself in an effort to make good dresses, that work from every angle, that will flatter, that will be comfortable, that will be affordable…
To see that hard work appreciated [all over the world] is truly amazing!
C: What was the most defining moment in your career thus far?
DO: The Fall 2012 show during NY Fashion Week. I indulged my fantasy and sent fierce warrior goddesses down a New York runway, witnessed by my family from Ireland who all sat front row.
C: Do you think your past jobs — including a chef, model, artist and even employee of McDonald's — have helped you get to the point at which you are at today?
DO: All of my past jobs played a big part in shaping who I have become as a person. Each presented its own unique obstacles, which had to be overcome. I stuck with each one; until fate came knocking and beckoned into a new phase of my life's journey. I learned different skills, learned to work with people, I learned humility and hard work. I learned most importantly, that I have to appreciate the people that work with me and make me the person that I am. I have learned that “thank you” goes a long way, and in this industry “thank yous” are seldom heard.
C: I have read that you are extremely close with your parents and family. Do they help to inspire the clothing that you create?
DO: My Mom was my introduction to fashion. Her passion for beautiful dresses was acquired in New York City, where she worked as a nanny for two years. Her very generous, very chic employer dressed mom in Bergdorf Goodman dresses. Mom passed away a few months ago. She is now my fashion Angel. She was so proud of all that I have accomplished.
C: In addition to your intricate beading work, what other details do you like to include in your designs?
DO: As I mentioned before, fabric plays a huge role in the collection. If I don’t love the fabric, I don’t buy it. The prints also play a huge role. I work with a printer in Como and his innate Italian sense of color is extraordinary coupled with ability to print such vibrant color. It’s magical.
C: What can we expect moving forward into your next collection?
DO: Moving forward, always hard to say, but the initial feelings are calling for simpler lines. And that goddess, who will inspires me, sits on a cloud far above as yet, she is not ready to inspire me. To be continued…