On January 20th, the Inauguration Day, Dr. Jill Biden wore Markarian from head-to-toe: a custom cerulean tweed dress and matching coat trimmed with pearls and velvet cuffs. Michelle Obama boosted the profile of many young American designers in her day, and Biden’s choice was a reminder of how deeply women care about what First Ladies wear – and how influential their choices can be. But also, it worked as a statement: supporting small brands and companies is important. That day, Markarian’s Alexandra O’Neill experienced ultra-visibility that most young designers only fantasize about. On a Zoom call with Vogue, O’Neill said her social media following doubled instantly, and the e-tailer Moda Operandi reported a 570% spike in traffic to Markarian pieces within 24 hours: overnight, the label went from relative obscurity to international news. And here’s a plot twist. Anyone expecting an autumn-winter lineup of Dr. Biden-esque coats or a deep political statement will be surprised to hear that O’Neill’s inspiration – one she conceptualized months before the election – was actually Ancient Rome. She studied Roman art and mythology in college, and the relaxed glamour of the period (draped tunics, twisting braids, lots of gold jewelry) felt newly relevant in a year of lockdowns. Markarian isn’t a casual brand, so O’Neill’s challenge of late has been creating elegant clothes you can wear out or at home. A brocade robe dress met the criteria, as did a long-sleeved style with a burnout velvet motif of shimmering grapes. Yet many of O’Neill’s customers will be more excited by the pieces that read fantastical, not practical: an LBD with “firework” crystal embellishments or the dreamy, yet unpretentious wedding gowns. With so much unexpected recognition the brand has received, it’s exciting how O’Neill will push her vision forward.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.