By Alexander Patiño
Just weeks before Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is set to explode all over New York City, Don O’Neill, the Creative
Director behind the scintillating and ethereal line Theia invited me to his Midtown showroom to have a chat about his
slowly, but surely rising line of dresses and gowns. Although a native of the emerald isle, O’Neill adopted the name
Theia for his brand after the Greek goddess of light.
O’Neill’s showroom was a continuous array of stunningly constructed pieces one right after the other and neither of us
could help but think that girls really do get to have all the fun. But before I got to see what all the Theia ruckus was all
about, we sat down for a chat and discussed not just how this exemplary line came to be, but how a great designer went
from Dublin, to McDonald's, all the way up to the esteemed atelier of Lacroix to become the creative force he is today.
FASHION Q&A: How did an Irishman come up with the idea of Theia? We all know of James Joyce and his Greek
inspirations. What is it about Greek culture that enthralls the Irish?
DON O’NEILL: I think a lot of Irishmen are very fascinated with Greek culture and mythology in general. The Irish
mythology is so rich in different cultural elements. For the original concept I was looking for an Irish name for the
collection, but a lot of the names in own language, when you see them written down and then trying to pronounce that
name is usually impossible. So I moved on to Greek culture and the breadth of culture is amazing and there are so many
amazing goddesses and I started working through the names that just appealed to me and Theia popped out. So I
started doing research on Theia and found that she was the goddess of light.
FQA: And it was the perfect symbiosis…
DON: It was insane. I cannot believe no one had ever
used the name Theia before.
FQA: I had never heard of Theia before myself and here
I thought I was well attuned to Greek mythology. You
DON: I hadn’t either and one of her amazing attributes
was that she had laser vision, which sounds uncanny for
a Greek goddess, but anything she gazed upon became
bright and luminous. So in Greek mythology, the reason
gemstones sparkle is because Theia took these basic
quartz stones, stared at them and they became
luminous, bright and brilliant. So diamonds, rubies,
emeralds – everything sparkles because of Theia.
FQA: Now that you’re saying this, I can’t believe no one
hit upon it either.
DON: For me to put a woman in an evening gown and
imbue her with the qualities of Theia which are light,
brilliance, luminosity and the confidence of being a
goddess, I think is an amazing combination and I think it
has worked in our favor.
FQA: I know that you were inspired by your mother’s
Bergdorf Goodman dresses when you were a little boy,
but even then, did Dublin leave something to be desired
DON: I grew up in Ireland in the 80s and the economy
was not doing really well and I and all of my classmates
and all of my colleagues left; none of us stayed in Ireland.
All of us had to go abroad to seek employment
opportunities. I was really fortunate when I graduated
college. I happened to be student of the year and the
woman that awarded me that prize at our end of the year
show was a very successful designer in London.
A New Bright Light
FQA: Was this Royal Couturier Gina Fratini?
DON: Gina Fratini. I went to Gina and I said ‘Do you have
any opportunities in London?’ She said ‘Sure. Why don’t
you come to London when you feel the time is right?’ That
following week I moved to London and I really never
worked in Dublin. I worked in London for two and a half
years then I decided I wanted to go to Paris and be a
huge, famous fashion designer, because that’s
apparently “how it works.” And I arrived in Paris, I didn’t
speak French and I had nowhere to stay, no money, but I
just assumed that fate was going to open its big wide
arms and I would become this overnight star.
FQA: That Theia would look down on you and you’d start
glittering all over Paris?
DON: Basically, my first job was at McDonald's. So I didn’t
really get off to the most wonderful start, but I worked in a
lot of different places and eventually chose to work for a
costume company and the costumier who designed for
the company had worked for Mr. Lacroix for eight years
and she said ‘Don, if you do this for me and help me put
this together I will introduce you to the people at Christian
Lacroix and I will see what I can do to get you in there.’ So
she worked her magic after I had worked for her for six
months and got me a place at Christian Lacroix’s couture
studio, which was a dream come true.
And it’s really funny because at the time I was so
desperate to get a job in Paris and I had interviewed with
tons of different people in France and each time I had told
a fib at the front desk to get my way in. And one day I
managed to get myself an interview at Dior, with the head
of the couture studio.
FQA: Knowing the economy we’re in now and what has
happened to the Lacroix house…
DON: It’s tragic.
FQA: What do you think is the future of couture?
DON: I think couture will always have a future. It has to. Couture
is an art. It’s like saying ‘does art have a future?’ Of course it
has a future. There may be less people willing to buy it, but
there will always be designers, artists who are looking to
create something unique, amazing, over the top.
FQA: Thank god for that.
DON: Couture will always be with us.
FQA: Knowing that awards season is coming up. We have
the Golden Globes, the Grammy’s and the Academy Awards
right around the corner and I know that Carrie Underwood is
a big fan of your line, are you going to be dressing any big
names soon for any of these events?
DON: We have dresses we’re working on that I’m not at liberty
to say who they’re for and that we’re really excited about. One is
a major, major celebrity. Carrie has again selected several
dresses that are an option for a show. There are literally no
dresses here. Every dress we have is out. The calls have been
non-stop, from stylists across all different categories for all the
award shows. We have no dresses to show customers to sell
because they’re all over the place, in L.A, or wherever all of
these stars live. It’s insane.
|"I think couture will always have a future.
It has to. Couture is an art.
It’s like saying ‘does art have a future?’
Of course it has a future."
|"When a woman wears a Theia dress,
the dress doesn’t wear her."
FQA: Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is also right around the
corner. Are you going to be having a runway show or a
DON: We may have a presentation here in the showroom. Once
again, we’re a teeny tiny company. I’m the designer, I have an
assistant, one sales person, one production person, one
seamstress and three sewers. So it’s amazing that with this tiny
team we've even managed to have the notoriety that we’ve had so
far. People assume that we’re this huge company already, but we’
re just starting and Carrie Underwood has just further propelled
this huge wave of press. Every store that comes in here has
bought the collection. We look like we should have a runway
show and that we should be this insanely successful company.
But so far we’re still digging in our pockets for loose change to
make it happen. We have a long way to go yet.
FQA: I have seen your book and it’s absolutely beautiful work.
What markets do you feel best understand your work?
DON: Here in the U.S we’ve had an amazing response to the
collection, specifically from stores that bought very expensive
couture product, where they were buying dressing that were 15,
16, $10,000 and they needed a resource that could offer them an
affordable product that looked as good as their couture dresses,
but at a more affordable price point. The dresses we’re making at
Theia look much more expensive than they’re actually priced at.
FQA: Are any of them couture?
DON: No. But they all look like couture. And part of the
reason is because of the fabrics I choose to use. I use all
Italian prints, my brocades are from France and Germany.
I use the same suppliers that Oscar de la Renta and
Carolina Herrera use and I use the fabric judiciously and
we manufacture in China in order to keep the prices
affordable. So the woman that buys Theia is actually
getting a dress that looks like couture, but under $1,000,
which is unheard of.
FQA: What would you say to a woman who is looking for
a little bit more glamour in her life?
DON: Well, I’d definitely tell her she has to wear Theia. The
one thing I’m really proud of with Theia is how a dress fits.
There’s nothing more unfortunate than seeing a woman
at an event who is hiking her dress up all evening, or she’
s afraid to put her hands in the air for fear of falling out of
her dress. We work very hard to make sure the dresses fit.
When a woman wears a Theia dress, a woman wears the
Theia dress, the dress doesn’t wear her.