From Ballyheigue to Brooklyn: Don O’ Neill

Laura Hussey chats to renowned Irish fashion designer Don O’Neill who will receive an honorary doctorate at a conferring in UCC on the 5th of June

“There’s great credit due to him, he came a long ways” – this is just one sentence of the sheer buckets of praise by locals for Ballyheigue native, Don O’Neill. Walk through the quaint seaside town in North Kerry and you’re sure to be met with a short biography from any of the locals about the famous dress designer. While the man himself has famously dressed stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, to name but a few, his couture line THEIA, strives to bring out every woman’s “inner goddess.” From the coastal town where he was born to his own fashion line based in New York, O’Neill recently shared a few sage words for the aspiring designers of UCC.

The creative mind behind the couture line divulged an insight to his favourites inspirations in the fashion industry.

“An eclectic mix of names such as John Galliano, Jean Paul Gautier, Alexander Wang, Simone Rocha and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen to name but a few.”

However when it comes to role models, it seems the couturier stays closer to home.

“Role models…I have many, the first are my parents who taught me the value of hard work, and putting the needs of their family ahead of their own; and my partner Pascal teaches me about love every day.”

The Kerry native began establishing his career largely thorough internships in fashion houses in London and Paris, most notably alongside infamous couturier Christian Lacroix. He highly praised the value of internships to young wishful designers by advising those who wish to follow in his footsteps to “decide which field of design you want to work then find internships with established designers in that field to learn as much as you can about how both design and the business work.”

When looking back on his career, he remembers his first runway bow fondly as a significant high point; “taken just after the fall 2012 runway show during New York Fashion Week, with my family sitting in the front row.”

However, despite his success so far, O’Neill is slow to forget how much he has been taught from others, he acknowledges that “you can learn from everyone, from the man who sweeps the floor of the studio, or operates the elevator, through to the C.E.O.”

O’ Neill spoke about the challenges that come with being both a designer and the head of a couture line; he claimed the biggest one by far is keeping the creativity flowing while juggling the business aspects of his job, which for him are necessary but distracting in order to keep the collection commercially viable while all the time creatively advancing it.

O’Neill was cheerful and exuberant when finishing up our brief chat and was very hopeful for the veritable talent in UCC; “new stars bubble to the top every season, may you be one of them!” He also had a few much sought after tips for ambitious would-be designers which were simply; “to be true to yourself, follow your dreams and work hard in college, where your creativity will be in full flight.”