Alexandra O’Neill is one of several shell collectors we’ve encountered this season. These sea treasures, which were introduced for resort in a more literal, and referential, way, had been transformed by the waves of inspiration. Apart from a molded bag, the designer took a more subtle approach, using ruffles, scalloped edges, and undulating lines as stand-ins for seaweed, shells, and tides. The idea, she explained, was to drift away from mermaidcore without abandoning all of its prettiness. One of the ways O’Neill achieved that goal was by photographing her look book on an estate in the English countryside that had a shell grotto. (Imagine a supersize sailor’s valentine.)
The art-loving designer had her perennial favorite, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, on her mood board, hence the focus on shells and flowers. The latter patterned a pretty, floaty floral coat (worn with little shorts) inspired by the the painting. Alongside the particulars, O’Neill pulled from the artwork a feeling of rebirth and opening up that goes hand in hand with spring. The casting and setting actually lent a Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia aspect to some of the more romantic looks, like a fluffy yet sheer dress with puff sleeves in white.
Change at Markarian is driven by fabric choice more than anything else. O’Neill isn’t thinking about creating a soup-to-nuts kind of wardrobe; rather, she’s focused on creating options for a variety of dress-up events. As there are boxes to check—options for Ascot, wedding, prom, dinner party in different styles such as “naked,” long, short, and so on—there can be looks that satisfy the need without contributing to the narrative of the offering as a whole. There was less of that this season: Perhaps the well-chosen location contributed to the sense that this was a more contained, and coherent, collection.