Alexandra O’Neill On Markarian’s New Jewelry Offering, Her Grandma Gigi, And What’s In Store For SS ’21

by Freya Drohan

For Spring Summer ’21, Alexandra O’Neill fêted her forever muse with an al fresco soiree. The designer behind the elegant and feminine eveningwear brand—which has found fans in the likes of Hilary Rhoda, Emily Ratajkowski, Emma Roberts, Ashley Graham, and Thandie Newton—recently showcased her wares in an ’80s garden party-inspired lookbook. Between the throwback puff shoulders and retro prints on whimsical brocade frocks, it was the nostalgia-induced respite we needed this season. We caught up with O’Neill to talk influences, inspiration, and to get a sense of what her foray into jewelry looks like. Spoiler: her new bejeweled earrings, necklaces, and anklets are as ‘add to cart’-worthy as it comes.

Tell us about the ‘80s garden party theme! Where was the lookbook shot?
We shot the lookbook at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay. It is one of the most beautiful locations. I have been spending so much time at home and with family over the past few months, which made me think of my childhood. I remember seeing these photos at my grandparents’ house of the garden parties that they used to throw in the ’80s. Lots of big hair and floral prints. I wanted to relay that sense of home entertaining or backyard entertaining in this collection, since this is where we have been and will be spending our time.

Alexandra O’Neill (courtesy)

Who is the model and what drew you to her as a muse?
The model is Nadja Giramata. She is such a beautiful, elegant, and kind person. She has such a graceful and confident energy about her. We were very excited to be able to work with her.

Your grandma taught you how to sew when you were 10-years-old, what else can you tell us about your design and fashion background?
I’ve always loved clothing and the construction of it. My grandmother, Gigi, was so happy to teach me when I started to show an interest. She would help me put together pieces from leftover clothing or fabric that I would get from the local fabric store after school. I am very much so self-taught… or I guess Gigi-taught!

Cute! We imagine Gigi is mega proud and the brand’s #1 fan?
She is so proud; she still helps me try to figure things out. I make all of her clothing for her now and she is happy to represent.

How has 2020 been for you? What lessons are you taking away and where have you been seeking inspiration from?
Like most people across the globe, 2020 has presented a new set of challenges. It has forced most to think outside of the box, be self-reflective, and to reexamine old practices that are no longer working. I am finding inspiration in being forced to look at things through a different perspective or in a different way through different outlets. I am finding inspiration in comfort and the everyday things that I do and that I surrounded myself with. And lastly, I have found inspiration in my dreams, and in the offensive amount of television and movies that I have been watching.

You were WFH before it was the norm! Does your chic living space still double as the brand’s HQ?
I am naturally a homebody and I loved working from home when I first started! We quickly outgrew my apartment though, and we do have a beautiful showroom in the West Village now where we are taking a very limited number of private appointments. It feels very homey and comfortable, more like an extension of my home rather than an office. The team is mostly back to working from home though through the rest of the year.

Your brand has achieved so much in such a short space of time! What does it feel like seeing notable style influencers/celebrities wear your designs?
It is always exciting and such an honor to see people wearing and responding to something that you dreamed up in your head. My favorite thing is to see a stranger walking down the street or at an event wearing Markarian!

How has Markarian evolved in the last three years?
The last three years have been an exciting journey. The brand has gone from a small collection that was based out of my apartment to having a bridal collection and most recently a jewelry line that we showcase in our atelier. It has been a dream.

What type of woman continues to inspire you?
My friends and family inspire me the most! I make everything for the people that surround me.

Your pieces are hand-made in NYC, why is this important to you?
I believe strongly in supporting our local resources. I love being able to see each piece being made to order and knowing exactly who is making it and where each element is coming from. New York’s Garment center has such talented craftsmen and artisans that are disappearing daily. That kind of workmanship will never come back, so I want to make sure that I support it and invest in it as much as I can.

What’s next for Markarian?
I am excited to see where the next year takes us. We are all going through so much change right now. It will be interesting what sticks and where everything and everyone lands. We are working hard on our sustainability efforts by introducing even more sustainable fabrics and practices.

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