On January 20, 2021 Markarian designer Alexandra O’Neill was filled with nerves. One month prior, she’d been approached by Dr. Jill Biden’s team with a request to create two looks the First Lady would potentially wear during the inauguration. Other designers had been tapped to enter submissions of their own, in something of a fashion arms race. O’Neill had no idea if she'd made the cut; she’d find out who was chosen along with the rest of the world watching this year’s historic election. Then she saw it: the velvet-trimmed tweed jacket and dress done in ocean blue and embroidered with crystals walking down the gangway at the United States Capitol.
“I was very hopeful, and I was expecting it to be crazy if our look was the look,” O’Neill recalled over the phone on a recent afternoon. “But it was nothing even close to what it actually was. There was just an outpouring of congratulations.”
It became a watershed moment for O'Neill, who started her New York-based brand in 2017. Immediately, Markarian’s social media following doubled, and Moda Operandi reported a 570 percent spike in traffic to the brand's pieces.
“We had a global spotlight on us for that time,” she added. Although O’Neill’s brand—which has been known as a red carpet favorite for Kerry Washington, Lizzo, Beanie Feldstein—is familiar to most within fashion circles, it was suddenly thrust onto a national stage. Those demographics which might not follow celebrity culture now knew Markarian’s name.
O’Neill acknowledges that the event changed everything for her brand. And today, the designer will present her first-ever New York Fashion Week show as part of the IMG Fashion Alliance at Manhattan's Rainbow Room—a classic location that felt like “such a beautiful place to do it,” she said.
The day I chat with O’Neill, she is just 48 hours away from her NYFW debut. She’s immersed in a “crazy big fitting” at her West Village studio, which is located behind a “really beautiful little secret garden.” Inside the showroom, whose walls are painted a blush-pink, there are “racks and racks” of spring 2022 clothing, along with the Markarian offices.
The collection this season is meant to evoke the experience that takes place for Markarian VIPs and private clients—Laura Dern and Priyanka Chopra Jonas among them. O’Neill said she drew inspiration from the classic films she watched during the pandemic, both in her own New York City apartment and on Long Island with her sister and brother-in-law. While taking in How to Marry a Millionaire and Bringing Up Baby on the couch, she made note of the 1940s, old-world salon style. For her own spring 2022 line, she mixed those World War II-era silhouettes with looks from the 1970s, incorporating beading and sequins and injecting tons of color into the gowns that will show this afternoon. O’Neill notes she is especially looking forward to unveiling Markarian jewelry (which is made through a partnership with the New York-based bauble brand Ciner) and accessories, including handbags.
O’Neill’s first turn at New York Fashion Week couldn't be more bonkers, timing-wise. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a “challenge, obviously,” when it comes to planning out the logistics of the show. O'Neill said she and her brand have been following CFDA, IMG, and CDC guidelines to put together the spring 2022 reveal. But in some ways, it feels entirely fitting that the designer has found success in the eye of the storm. She stuck the landing with Biden’s inaugural outfit and plans to do it again, regardless of the hurdles and nerves.