BY MARC KARIMZADEH
To understand Thaddeus O’Neil, consider the designer’s notebooks that he has used to unveil new collections in the past. These books, which he is revisiting for his Fall/Winter 2016 lineup, feature a charming mix of photography and musings typed on an antique typewriter. The overall effect makes a statement for a distinct aesthetic or, more specifically, an almost idyllic lifestyle.
Said way of life is quintessentially Thaddeus. The Eastern Long Island native grew up surfing and, from an early age, modeling for Bruce Weber, a neighbor in Bellport whom O’Neil considers a friend and mentor.
“He introduced me to photography, which was my first view into this world,” O’Neil recalls over a plate of pasta Bolognese at Sant Ambreous in SoHo, a stone’s throw from his Manhattan base. “Bruce Weber is an artist in the truest sense of the world. He creates a world from scratch. It’s a real feeling of letting things move along in a very organic, simple way. He creates a situation and lets it evolve.”
Though intended as a compliment, the designer may just as well have described his own work ethos.
O’Neil didn’t take the traditional path to fashion. He first studied philosophy and geology, and obtained a Master’s degree in philosophy of art. Along the way, he honed his eye as a photographer’s assistant, which allowed him to travel the globe and explore many of the cultures it has to offer.
It was all very organic. I never thought about becoming a fashion designer. I made my first pieces while traveling, and consistently so over a number of years. I would find a fabric that I love, make a little sketch, and then find someone to make these pieces. If I was in Bali, I’d find a seamstress in Bali. If I was in Africa, I’d find someone in Africa who could make things for me. I would come back wearing them on the street and people really responded.
Such response encouraged him to launch his own label in 2013, initially focusing on a menswear line of American luxury playwear, then augmenting it with womenswear this spring. Per his own bio, the clothes exude a sense of “abandon and rebellion customary of surf culture juxtaposed with a poetic, nomadic and romantic essence,” a sentiment crystallized with his first runway show at New York Fashion Week: Men’s last July.
“I pretty much exclusively make things that I would want to wear,” says the designer. “Sometimes I push things a little bit to have more fun. But I don’t want to make things I wouldn’t wear.”
Whether intended or not, the lineup, with its gender-ambiguous styling, also zeroed in on the sartorial Zeitgeist. O’Neil, for his part, traces the aesthetic back to surf culture.
For me, there is a casualness, a naturalness and a simplicity. Those are the things that I like. I grew up reading surfing magazines. I was studying these surfers and their style everywhere, from Australia to Hawaii. Their sense of style is a mashup which l like. They don’t really have any restrictions. They might be wearing a woman’s fur coat with a hot pant. I appreciate the organic sense of that culture. There is no programmed way of dressing. You write your own program.
The latter is something O’Neil is busy crafting for himself and his model wife Pania Rose, his three-year old son Cas, their two dogs, Hemingway and Shirley, and the cat called Teddy Boy.
“I really want to build a house in that classical sense,” the designer explains. “I want to slow things down and make really beautiful things that are handed down. I want to make clothes that feel like they belong to the family, things that are passed on and yet stay.”