A Conversation with

Don O'Neill

Don O'Neill, the creative director of goddess-like wedding and evening gown collection Theia, may not be a household name (yet), but we're pretty sure you've seen his creations on a bevy of celebs: Most recently, he dressed Angela Bassett in a jewel-toned amethyst gown for the Tony Awards. He also created the high-tech, image-projecting gown in which Carrie Underwood performed at the Grammy's, sewing thousands of crystals on the bodice. O'Neill's personal life has been in the spotlight recently, too: In May, he proposed to Pascal Guillermie (owner of floral boutique Fleur De Pascal), his partner of 20 years, while the two were vacationing in Miami Beach. Not content with a simple old proposal, he had an airplane fly overhead with the banner: "Pascal Je T'aime! Will You Marry Me?" Here, we chat with him about the dramatic proposal, his latest wedding dress collection, his favorite bridal hairstyles and more.

Tell us more about how you proposed to Pascal!
We were spending a weekend in Miami, celebrating our 20th anniversary. People already assumed we were married; it was a standing joke that it was "about time" we made it official. I had always thought that someday I would propose via an airplane banner, and before I knew it, just before leaving for Miami, I was Googling airplane banners and shopping for a ring.

It was Sunday morning on South Beach. I was so nervous: I thought, "I hope this isn't going to backfire. What if the plane doesn't show?!" It was due to arrive at 10:30 a.m. The beach started to get really crowded. At 10:25 a.m., Pascal decided to go for a dip! Just as he goes in the water, I see the airplane coming in the distance, and I panic , "Uh oh, he's not going to see it!" But it ended up working out, and everyone on the beach was cheering.

Have you done any wedding planning yet?
I would like to do it next year. I have a huge family in Ireland, and a whole branch of my family here, so we're going to do a blessing in Ireland and another wedding ceremony here. I'd like to incorporate the magic of Ireland's countryside into my wedding there, and host something here that's not too formal梞aybe a beach wedding.

What's your favorite dress from the Fall 2014 Theia collection?
The Hannah Marie. It's a boat neck, A-line dress made of feather-weight organza three-dimensional fabric, and it was inspired by my late mom's wedding gown. Brides during her time wore a mantilla梐 cross between a veil and a shawl. It was a very ornate piece, and I decided to make it look more modern, interpreting it as a beautiful cape. The cape was really a big trend to come out of Bridal 2014 Fashion Week. I am amazed that something so inspired by my mom was part of such a big trend.

What hairstyle would a bride wear with the Hannah Marie dress?
Something very clean and very modern. In my collection, I was initially going to go in the direction of an over-the-top Marie Antoinette hairstyle, but as the collection evolved, the side-part polished look, with a beautiful structured chignon low on top of the head, started to make more sense. In general, I'm always in favor of brides wearing their hair pulled back in a chignon. It keeps the nape of the neck clean, and there's often beautiful detail at the back of a wedding dress that you don't want to hide. But if you're getting married outdoors卛n an orchard, a vineyard, or the beach匢 do like the hair soft maybe wavy or with more texture梐nd to hang long.

How are wedding hairstyles driven by the venue?
There are two different types of brides: There's the bride who is very formal, in a large ball gown or lots of lace, and the wedding is in a big venue. Her hair is glam and elegant. Then there is the bride who is outdoors on a beach, and she's wearing my petal gown. She has her hair long and loose, with lots of texture, but still "groomed."

What are some of your favorite bridal party trends this season?
What I've seen that I like is all the bridesmaids wearing off-white or ivory, which was inspired by Kate Middleton. I don't like when all the girls are wearing different dresses because it becomes a competition about whose dress looks best. It should be more about the bride.

You hail from a small village in west Ireland. How do you incorporate your Irish heritage into your designs?
Part of the success of the collection梩he less formal and more rustic feel梚s due in part to my heritage. In this collection, for example, we showed an Irish fisherman sweater and made it formal with tens of thousands of glass porcelain beads. The idea is to wear it for an after-wedding brunch. We showed it with a pair of satin shorts, but it could also be worn with a beautiful ivory satin ball gown skirt.

You do such dramatic, Marie-Antoinette-inspired hair in some of your campaigns and editorials. What do you like about these styles?
That's "ultimate fantasy hair" for a glam, formal wedding. A gorgeous, soft sculpture piled high on your head is so regal. What's amazing about hair like this is that at the end of the evening, when you pull out the pins and let it down, you have this great, full-bodied hair with gorgeous texture. It's almost prettier when it comes down; you have this teased-out volume on your shoulders.

- NATALIE GONTCHAROVA

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