Thursday 8 December 2016

Something gold, something new

When it comes to bridal gowns, the boundary-breaking fashion designer Don O'Neill "prescribes sequins and beads for everything".

Published 25/07/2015 | 01:00

Don O'Neill designs
Don O'Neill designs
Don O'Neill designs

Dr Don O'Neill's celebrity client list is impressive - everyone from Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Amy Poehler and Khloe Kardashian have worn his couture.

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Recently elevated to doctor status after being presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from UCC in June, Don is currently working on his latest red carpet and bridal collection. He regularly features in Harper's Bazaar's influential wrap-up of their favourite wedding frocks each season.

You just know by the romantic streak in the titian-haired designer that pulling out his sketchbook twice a year to design wedding dresses in the Theia offices in Manhattan is an absolute pleasure for him.

But then this is the romantic Kerryman who proposed to his French partner of 20 years, florist Pascal Guillermie, with a heart-trimmed airplane banner unfurled across a blue, South Beach sky. The message? 'Pascal, je t'aime! Will you marry me?'

His modus operandi is to give bridal dresses a twist and in addition to the usual ivories and whites, he includes lots of silver and golds too.

Don's 'Erin' wedding dress was a glamorous take on the fishermen's sweaters from the Aran Islands, and the cashmere knit featured striking contrasts, with a high turtleneck and scooped-out back. The Aran influence caused a catwalk sensation in the US.

Then there are his high-octane gúnas, like the $4,000 'Athena' gown (right), photographed spectacularly against the dome of the Santa Maria della Salute basilica and the waters of Venice's Grand Canal by top American photographer, Michael David Adams, whose make-up artist wife, Viktorija J Bowers, works on Don's shoots.

"Viktorija fell in love with the 'Athena' and Michael took it off to shoot for the high-end glossy magazine, Charleston Style & Design. The image from the shoot was extraordinary," says Don.

The made-to-order, luxury dress features hand-embroidered nude tulle covered with a mosaic of hand-cut, pearlised sequins, the edges of which are singed to give them a soft, curled edge.

"It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful pictures of one of my gowns that I have seen for a long time," says Don, who estimates he has designed over 300 wedding dresses so far in his career.

Clients send in photos from their weddings, which are posted on the Theia Facebook page. Recent posts include his Tara dress, photographed by Folkster, the sole stockist of Theia in Ireland. Folkster has a dedicated bridal room at 27 Patrick Street, Kilkenny, and prices for Don's gowns run from €840 up to €2,900.

Surveying the current wedding market, Don admits he would like to see more "hints of colour and also more drama, in an easy, unfussy way".

"That is the idea behind my little cropped tops, which are made from traditional lace interpreted in a modern way and worn with dramatic skirts in chiffon, Spanish tulle or organza. They are popular with brides for day and night.

"At the end of the day, you want to only get married once; you want to make a statement; you want to be beautiful; you want gorgeous pictures, and a dress with a lot of fabric and a train that lends itself to so many photo opportunities.

"It is a combination of the bride being comfortable and making a statement in a beautiful dress," adds Don.

"I can only do fashion remedies - and I prescribe sequins and beads for everything!"

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