Thaddeus O’neil: America's Menswear Designer of the Year

Find out why his surf inspired luxury collections aren’t just another retail success but mark a countercurrent that the entire industry is leaning towards; lifestyle in fashion

You launched in 2013, siting surf as a passion and art.  How does this lifestyle shape and influence your business?

Surfing, properly understood and practiced, is a spiritual aesthetic pursuit first and foremost and from the perspective of "a lifestyle" this informs a way of being in the world.  I try to carry that simplicity and naturalness forward in my clothes and my brand.  But of course my perspective is that of an urban surfer, an escape artist, so there is that as well.  And sartorially speaking surfers' style has always struck me as a mashup poem or a dadaist play.  So it gets a bit funky in a subtle way, and has a definitive attitude.

Part of surf culture is hanging with like-minded people.  Do your friends also dip into the fashion fields or creative arts? Who have you collaborated with?

Actually surfers come in all shapes and sizes, social and political prerogatives, and mental dispositions, its a very democratic marginal zone in that way, a microcosm of humanity on an ocean playground.  But playgrounds can unhinge normal biased interaction and often do.  So surfing is interesting in that way.  But yes I do collaborate with my surfer friends quite a lot and most of them are in some creative field or other.  I work with them on pictures and films and set designs for shows and artwork for collections.

Your DNA is heavily embedded in surf culture. What elements of this play a reoccurring role in your design signature? 

I would say the rebellious, insouciant-effortlessness paired with a very conscious aesthetic message is always at work.  That sartorial mashup poem I described is a constant guide for my work.  Unusual juxtapositions to turn familiarity a little upside down or askew.  I don't see myself so far from the American sportswear tradition really, but theres a beachy, loose, uncanniness and rebelliousness that turns it on its head and makes it fresh.

Your business is still small with many opportunities for growth worldwide. What is your commercial strategy!?

We're small and I actually see that as an advantage and opportunity in the current retail landscape.  My strategy is to find new and engaged ways to meet my consumer and establish closeness and a certain intimacy with them.  To build my world traveling beach tribe.  And to do this I think it helps to be nimble, adaptable, and curious so that you can find subtle and innovative means to do that. 

Tell us about the first retailers to embrace you and their constructive advice if any?

Ron Herman and Saks in the US, and Biotop, United Arrows and Isetan in Japan have been wonderful partners.  I think that their creating a platform for you to have the necessary time in the market to help you hone your voice is the biggest gift.  It takes time for a customer to come to understand your voice, it's like reading a novel or a book of poetry, there is a whole new rhythm and syntax and imagination at work and you need time to sit with it and absorb it and understand it and fall in love with that voice and want more and more of it.

Your collection has been embraced heavily by the Japanese. Why do you think this is and who do you envision wearing your pieces?

I think the japanese are an inherently aesthetic culture, whereas we in the US are an industrial commercial culture.  There is an appreciation for considered difference and quality in Japan, a sensibility that is often obscured or diminished here in the US by celebrity culture and advertising. 

What wholesale prices are you hitting?

Swim $100-150 wholesale, Outerwear $380-750 wholesale  printed tees $50 wholesale  fully fashioned sweaters 195-250 wholesale   You get what you pay for.

You use high quality cotton, cashmere, wool, silk and linens. Where do you source these from and is your production in the USA?  

We source all our materials from Japan, Italy, and France.  95% is made in the USA, and most of that right here in New York. My factories are a few minutes walk from my studio, so I am there everyday and it's very familial and personal.

You are a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and ORDRE’s partner the International Woolmark Prize (USA). Please tell us how those two awards have assisted in opening doors.

These are fairly well respected and acclaimed recognitions in our industry.  It's been nice to have certain major figures in our industry available for advice and guidance and in some cases friendship.

When and where are you showing in New York? Any surprises in store?

I'm showing on February 2nd in New York.   I really can't wait to show this collection.   There are always surprises, loosely engineered and otherwise.  I like to create the space, cognitive and physical, to let things happen.  You'll have to come see.