“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. I don’t want to make things I wouldn’t wear.”
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 2017 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. The laid back 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.”
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,” he points out. “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.” And it grew from there.