Millennial fashion designer Alexandra O'Neill is seeing cocktail dress sales skyrocket as customers prepare for the new Roaring 20s

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Millennial fashion designer Alexandra O'Neill is seeing cocktail dress sales skyrocket as customers prepare for the new Roaring 20s
Alexandra O'Neill Courtesy of Alexandra O'Neill
  • Markarian is luxury fashion brand best known for dressing Jill Biden during the 2021 inauguration.
  • To Insider, O'Neill talks career beginnings and business ambitions.
  • This is part of Insider's entrepreneur series Star, Rising which highlights early entrepreneurs.

Name: Alexandra O'Neill

Age: 35

Location: New York City, New York

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Business: A luxury fashion line inspired by the whimsical elements in life.

Backstory: In the last roaring 20s, women wore glitzy flapper dresses with long-sleeved gloves and matching hats. This time around, Markarian's designer Alexandra O'Neill is hoping they'll wear her designs.

Millennial fashion designer Alexandra O'Neill is seeing cocktail dress sales skyrocket as customers prepare for the new Roaring 20s
Jill Biden in a custom blue suit embellished with Swarovski pearls and crystals on inauguration day. Patrick Smith / Staff / Getty Images

Launched in 2017, Markarian creates evening gowns with a fanciful aesthetic-it's an infusion of celestial romanticism, timeless design, and modern grace, according to its website. O'Neill had a breakout year in 2021 after dressing Jill Biden in a custom blue suit embellished with Swarovski pearls and crystals for inauguration day.

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On Friday, Markarian held its first New York Fashion Week presentation with a collection inspired by the style of actress Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall in the movie "How to Marry a Millionaire," depicting 1940s and early 1950s fashion.

The new collection comes right on time - the "experience economy" is expected to boom as the world reopens and people seek glitz, glamour, and camp for their sartorial choices.

Growth: Sales were doubling before the pandemic hit, then skyrocketed after the 2021 inauguration, with the brand and some of its wholesale retailers seeing sales quadruple and quintuple, O'Neill told Insider.

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Her social following also doubled with traffic to her site increasing 570%, according to W magazine. Next year, she's projecting a 150% increase in sales.

Markarian is sold in luxury retailer Moda Operandi, Bergdorf Goodman, and has a showroom where it creates custom pieces for private clientele. It's been spotted on actresses like Emma Roberts and Kerry Washington.

In 2019, it launched a line of homeware with interior designer CeCe Barfield, created a bridal collection, and launched a hat collection with accessories designer Gigi Burris last spring.

Millennial fashion designer Alexandra O'Neill is seeing cocktail dress sales skyrocket as customers prepare for the new Roaring 20s
The latest Markarian collection, presented during September 2021's NYFW. Cindy Ord / Staff / Getty Images

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Before Markarian: O'Neill and her sister, Kristen O'Neill, had a contemporary sportswear line called Porter Gray which they ran from 2006 until it folded in 2012.

Challenges: Aside from the pandemic, O'Neill said the biggest struggle has been trying to get Markarian more attention. So, she invested in digital marketing last year by working with influencers to help push the brand's whimsical aesthetics on Instagram.

Business advice: "It's important to test the waters and grow organically instead of trying to force growth," O'Neill said.

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Millennial fashion designer Alexandra O'Neill is seeing cocktail dress sales skyrocket as customers prepare for the new Roaring 20s
The latest Markarian collection, presented during September 2021's NYFW. Cindy Ord / Staff / Getty Images

Business mentor: O'Neill met a man named Wade, founder of a pattern service company, who introduced her to people in New York City's design district to create patterns for Markarian. She would not share his last name. He always stressed the importance of quality over quantity, she said.

He also told her it was impossible to make everyone happy. "Stick to what you know, what you do well, and your point of view," she said, relaying his advice. "If you put something else out there that already exists, what's the point?"

Why now the best time to start a business: "It's challenging," especially in fashion, she said, pointing to the pandemic and ongoing supply chain issues. But, with a slight laugh, she added, "I mean - when is there ever a right time to start a business?"

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On hiring: There are six people on Markarian's team and they are not looking to expand at the moment. She's kept her team small, which allowed the brand to stay nimble.

Managing burnout: "My relief is spending time with friends and family," O'Neill said, adding she also gets acupuncture. "I just feel very lucky to be able to do something that I absolutely love doing."

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