For his Spring 2017 show at New York Fashion Week: Men's, fashion designer Thaddeus O'Neil drew inspiration the surf culture of Japan--something he knows a lot about. Although he grew up surfing on Long Island, the former model is now a world traveler--and he's picked up a lot of tips, and inspiration, along the way. Here, O'Neil shares his very specific guide to being a jet set surfer.
Where did you learn to surf?
I grew up surfing on Fire Island, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth--and still my favorite place to surf when it's good. My dad taught me. He would pile me and my friends into his pickup truck and take us all to the beach. In the summer we would spend the entire day there and come home starving, over sunned, and so exhausted that my mum would have to literally help me up to bed.
What was the last place you went surfing? Fire Island. But before that Japan.
Where is the next place you plan to go surfing? Fire Island. But I'm planning a trip to Southwest France in August.
What are the most amazing, epic place around the world you’ve ever surfed? Peru, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, Australia are all pretty magical places to surf and spend time.
What makes a great surf spot? Aside from the obvious attributes specific to the practice of surfing, i.e. good, consistent waves, a great surf spot and surf town has a rich local culture, colorful, eccentric, warm people, natural beauty or architectural interest. Essentially all the things that enliven you and make the world feel fresh, igniting your curiosity and reawakening you to life, are the same things that give a spot its singular identity and charm. Surfing is a complete experience. It's an adventure.
What is the most disappointing surf trip you’ve ever been on? Even the most disappointing surf trips often have the most distinct authority on your memory for the very reason that they were excruciatingly disappointing or harrowing or filled with comedic misfortune. I once flew all the way to Moriches and drove around the island for a week without finding a single wave to surf. In my jet-lagged, bleary-eyed delirium I ordered caviar and somehow missed the first digit of the price on the menu, partially because in the context of $15 burgers, $515 dollar caviar eluded cause for alarm. I ended up taking a lot of beautiful portraits on that trip in the stark absence of waves, so at least there was a silver lining. Surfing is a complete experience, so as long as you remain open to all that it is and entails, it's actually quite difficult to ever be truly disappointed. It's really up to you.
Do you have any tips for packing light for a surf trip? You typically don't need much in the way of clothes for the beach. Less is always more.
Where do you usually stay when you’re traveling? It totally depends. I like to stay with friends when I can, it makes a place feel more natural. Otherwise air b and b.
What else do you like to do when you’re traveling? I like to make photographs, and I always bring my mini water color set, and I always read. I can't travel with less than 5 books. I'm not a tremendously avid or diligent foody, but I usually hunt down a few places that I will return to again and again, meal after meal. I'm a creature of habit and it makes me feel at home. I was recently in Portugal and I must have eaten at the same restaurant 5 meals in a row. The staff were like friends and the octopus and wine were to die for.
What do you wear when you’re surfing? It depends on the water temperature, but board shorts or my special metallic sequin wetsuits that I make. They're pretty eye-catching and aesthetically invigorating and really open the imagination to how cosmic and strange and beautiful and sublime surfing actually is.
Any hair or beauty products that you rely on for an active lifestyle? Lots of sunscreen and moisturizer, always! Aveda and MAC create really great non-greasy, everyday sun protection and delicious moisturizers. My skin really takes a beating in the sun and salt and wind so I have to protect it and its nice to give it a treat after a long day of surfing.
How does surfing and the surf community influence your designs? Aside from my family and my work, surfing is my greatest passion and is what frames my life, my motivations and concerns and experiences. It is also a supremely satisfying, joyful, meditative, humbling, restorative pursuit that reboots your entire being and outlook and enthusiasm for living. And it is a beautiful thing to behold, as is the natural environment in which it is enacted. So on a basic aesthetic level it constantly informs my work and way of looking and sensitivity for the world, which is the most important thing for a designer really.
Do you have any advice for someone going surfing for the first time? Spend a few hours on the beach watching the ocean taking it all in. Really let the rhythms of the waves, the surfers' gestures and approach sink into you. It's surprising how much your eyes can almost subliminally communicate to your body. I would also find a spot at a slight remove from the more advanced surfers and ride your first few waves on your stomach, lean on the rails and feel how they respond. And keep it fun and loose. You're out there to play in the waves and be in nature and with other smiling happy human beings.
What surfers do you most admire? In terms of pure beauty and grace I've always admired Tom Curren. I've always loved the attitude and funk of Buttons, the punk and out-there sartorialism of Bunker Spreckles, the soulful fluidity and princeliness of Dvid Nuuhiwa, the supreme intellect, ingenuity, and fine craft of countless board makers from Simmons to Velzy to Lis. I don't really follow professional surfers or surfing these days all that much, but I do love to watch Dane Reynold's surf. He has a certain abandon that is poetic and playful and dead serious and bucks the orthodoxy and reductionist calculus of "pro" surfing. If Georges Bataille or Marcel Duchamp or Tadao Ando were surfers I imagine them surfing like Dane.
How do surfers influence your fashion week presentations? Surfing opens a poetic, romantic, mystical, playful, spiritual, emotional world. I try to bring some small feeling of this world to all my fashion week happenings.
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