Markarian’s Alexandra O’Neill is the girl’s girl of designers. Intimately in tune with the needs and wants of her customers, she’s equally as comfortable creating a custom red carpet moment for leading ladies or the most important dress of a bride-to-be’s life as she is grabbing burgers with her team after a New York Fashion Week show. This season, she’s opting to take her Fall/Winter ’23 collection off the runway and into an immersive, old-world experience, taking a lead from the woman who inspired it all—her adored late grandmother, who taught her how to sew
Congrats on the outfit you designed for Dr. Jill Biden on Inauguration Day being entered into the Smithsonian!
I’m so excited about it. It’s such a career milestone! It was incredible to be a part of something like that. One of the most special things is that Dr. Biden was really supporting American artisans, and there were so many hands that went into making the outfit that are based right here in New York. I’m so proud of my team and everything we were able to accomplish; it was such an honor.
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What have been some other recent milestones for you and the brand?
Doing our first runway show! This will be our fourth physical event. It’s fun seeing the entire collection come together, have it presented in such a holistic way, and showcase all the hard work that we’ve done over the past six months to get it ready.
You’re opting to do something a little different. Tell us about the experience!
We’re doing more of a salon-style show. It’s much more intimate, which I think will be nice because our work is so detailed. It’s great for people to get up close and see the construction.
What can you tell us about the garments themselves?
It definitely has a 1930s, early 1940s vibe to it. I was thinking a lot about my grandmother for this season. Sadly, she passed away in October. She used to tell us all these stories about how she and my grandfather, when they were living in New York City, used to go to all these nightclubs in the city, like Zanzibar Club. They grew up together in Astoria, Queens, and their families had known each other since they were in Greece, basically. They got married when my grandmother was 17. She was the one who taught me how to sew, but my grandfather was also a designer and used to make beautiful dresses for her. Whenever they were going out at night, he would have her stand on the kitchen table and he would whip up a beautiful gown for her so they could go dancing! So I was thinking about them while designing this collection.
Do you still have access to some of her dresses?
No, sadly! My grandmother was a very modern woman and one of the most special things about her, and important things to her, was keeping up with the times and not getting stuck in the past, so everything she did was very modern. She had a modern approach to life and that included her clothing, too!
You always have amazing music at your shows. How far out are you thinking of production like music and venue?
Music is so important to me; I love all types of music. I listen to music when I design. I always have a playlist on
in the background and I’m listening to it on repeat for months, so I think it becomes a part of the collection, and in that case, part of the show. So it develops over six months, then I work with [DJ] Matthew Mazur for our music, and he’s so wonderful. He has a similar taste to me, and our music always vibes together. We usually do that a few weeks before the show.
Who else is inspiring you and motivating you right now?
My team! I feel fortunate to have them and wouldn’t be able to do any of this without them. They’re such a wonderful support network, and they all believe in Markarian just as much as I do…if not more! It’s so refreshing to have that in my life. My family, too. They’ve always been a big motivator!
Speaking of your team, what’s the mood now pre-NYFW?
It’s funny, the excitement gets exponential before the show. It starts ramping up a week or two before. Things are calm at the moment; we’ve just been banging out the samples. We feel fortunate to be working together in person, so that’s boosting morale, too.
Have you noticed a demand for anything in particular recently?
In this age of social media, everyone wants something that no one else has. A big part of our business is our custom and private client business. That’s been strong over the past year. Our clients love to be involved in creating, and also it’s something that’s only their’s.
You’ve had lots of red carpet moments, too!
Katie Couric was adorable to work with—so sweet, kind, thoughtful, and gracious. Ava DuVernay was also someone I was so excited about; she’s a powerhouse—cool, interesting, and beautiful. She looked incredible in her Markarian dress! We really started off as a red carpet brand. We only added Bridal a few years ago, and obviously it’s been a natural progression for us. So many people would come in asking for our main collection pieces in white for their wedding, so it made sense to add a full Bridal collection. It’s been nice to be able to get back to red carpet after COVID.
What are you hoping for this year?
We’re always looking to grow organically. I’m excited for the salon experience! It’s at a place called 632 On Hudson; it’s a big old house that feels very Art Deco and 1930s. It has lots of rooms, so people can wander around and explore. I think that’s something interesting and fun. It’s like a little palate cleanser for us, too. A runway show is so much fun and so much work, but it’s nice to mix it up and do something that feels more intimate, so we can connect with press and clients in another way.
What’s the go-to post-show meal for the team?
We always go get burgers and martinis! It used to be at Chumley’s… [but since it closed down], we’ve been trying new places. Pastis has a great burger, but we’re still trying to find the new Markarian burger spot!
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