FEATURE | 26 July 2020
Photos: Courtesy of Fiona O'Neill
Interview & Text: Martin Hufnagel
Born in Ireland and based in London, Fiona O’Neill is the designer behind her self-named label launched in 2019. The brand explores themes of surrealism and optical illusions, incorporating different art forms and application processes such as screen printing, painting by hand, and ceramic sculpting. Fiona also works to source and use eco-friendly materials in her designs, working towards further sustainability for the future.
To introduce her to you, Martin asked her what made her start her own label, the biggest challenges for an independent designer in the UK, her most played songs on the studio playlist, and her next plans.
To be honest, walking through a showroom with more than five different collections can be very exhausting. At some point during Fashion Week, I often feel oversaturated by all the impressions and find myself shutting down. However, it’s magical when, even though I’m only looking for the designers I had in mind, something catches my attention out of the corner of my eye.
This scenario is exactly what happened to me at the British Fashion Council Showroom in Paris in March this year. I was leaving the showroom, when a rag of clothing with beautiful patterns and shapes made me stop. One moment later, I was talking to Fiona about her first collection. She tried things on and explained to me every garment in a way that made it impossible not to be fascinated.
At what point did you think about starting your own label?
One of my earliest memories is of me drawing dresses on the back of a napkin in a restaurant, perhaps when I was 4 or 5 years old. I remember my mum’s friend saying I would make a good fashion designer, and I think that is when It started: I’ve wanted to have my own label since then. I always had the vision, but it took a long time to be ready. It was only after graduating from Central Saint Martins and working in the industry for a few years that I found it was the right time.
Do you remember the first piece you designed that made you think, ‘I’m good at this’?
This would have to be when Björk commissioned me to create a look for her based on my graduate collection for an editorial cover shoot with The Gentlewoman magazine. She was my first customer.
What was the reaction to your first collection?
It was very good, much better than I expected for a first collection...and I’m very grateful!
As an independent label in the UK, what’s the most challenging topic at the moment?
There are so many at the moment. This year has really shone a magnifying glass on a lot of very important issues that needed to change for a long time, and I’m happy about that. The most challenging as a new brand is navigating Covid-19 and the new challenges it brings. Keeping our studio, partners and customers safe is the most important thing.
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What’s your favourite place in London?
I didn’t know how much I loved my print room until we went into lockdown. I’ve missed this the most and have come to realise it really is my favourite place to be working. It was such a nice moment to walk back in.
What’s the most played song on your studio playlist?
‘Fast as You Can’ by Fiona Apple.
What are the next plans for your label and for you personally?
We’re currently working on our next digital showcase to present a new collection, which we’ll be sharing with you in September during London Fashion Week. We’re also planning to expand our range, which I’m looking forward to. I have a lot of ambitions for the brand, I really want to build a brand that is supporting and championing positive change in the industry. We will continue to responsibly source fabrics and trims and pursue slow fashion by designing seasonless collections.