To call Thaddeus O’Neil a fashion designer doesn’t quite get at the essence of the man. He is perhaps a surfer first and foremost, having grown up chasing waves on eastern Long Island, but he also studied the philosophy of art and has worked as a model, writer, and photographer’s assistant to the likes of Bruce Weber.
All of these traits are evident in the items he packs for his travels, which often take him to Australia, where his wife is from, or to Central America. First into his luggage go notebooks (one for his collection ideas and one for random thoughts), a miniature paint set, and a veritable library of books ranging from Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers to a philosophy book by Peter Singer. Of course, he also brings plenty of clothes from his namesake label, including pipe pants (his take on sweatpants), tank tops, and trunks from his forthcoming swim collection, which he’ll launch during Miami Swim Week this summer. Here, he shares what gets him through the 28-hour trip Down Under, what he brings back, and the one product he won’t travel without.
“Central America is just like heaven.”
“If I’m going somewhere, I want to be near the sea and surfing. This year, we went to Wyoming to visit a few friends and went skiing, but that is the first time in about 20 years that I’ve gone on a vacation to some place colder than where I already am. But Wyoming is a stunning part of the country, and it was an amazing trip. Generally, though: beach, sea. I love Australia just because I feel very at home there, and Bali, Nicaragua, Costa Rica. My friend has a place on the Osa Peninsula, which it’s not all that well known because it’s about an eight-hour drive from the airport. It’s a really beautiful place. Central America is just like heaven.”
“I’ll forget my toothbrush before I forget a book.”
“My wife is one who will have started her packing three or four days before a trip because she’s slowly piecing it together. Maybe all guys are like this, but I am the night-before and then sometimes the morning-of packer. Honestly, I will forget my toothbrush or some underwear—I’m laying out my books first. I’m laying out the things I want to be reading or doing on the plane, and I’ll forget my toothbrush before I forget a book.”
“If you have multiple books, it’s like having a conversation.”
“I always like to dress comfortably on the plane, so I wear a pair of my pipe pants and then something with a hood so I can pull it up or take it off to use as a pillow, so you never have to travel with one of those weird neck things. I’ll also bring along a pair of Ugg slippers or something for longer trips. Sometimes for those longer flights, when I remember, I’ll bring a little vial of olive oil to rub into my nostrils—it’s really good so you don’t get dried out. The trip to Australia is 28 hours. That’s why I have tons of books because with one book, you’ll get bored. If you have multiple books, it’s like having a conversation. You don’t want to talk to the same person for 28 hours, but I can talk to six or seven people over 28 hours, and that’s essentially what you’re doing.”
“I’m a collector and just find stuff that I want to bring into the studio for inspiration.”
“I do check bags. If I am just going to L.A. for four days, or someplace breezy, maybe I won’t check a bag. But, for example, we just went to Washington State, and I just knew I would want to bring crap back because I’m a collector and just find stuff that I want to bring into the studio for inspiration. So this last trip I came back with shells and driftwood and stuff that you would find with your grandma.”
“I use watercolors on the plane sometimes.”
“In my carry on, I always have books, note pads, a Gaia pouch filled with Sharpies, sketching pens and pencils, and my Winsor & Newton watercolor set. I use watercolors on the plane sometimes but lots of times I’ll use them at my destination. I paint funny little color studies, although actually, this last trip I did little folk art-inspired picture of New Zealand tiki figures. But a lot of times I’m just mucking around. I always have some almonds, an apple, and water. Plus magazines—I like Hobo and Wax—my phone charger, and usually a few of my son’s children’s books, too (so I have even more books).”
“Have a beer or have a tequila.”
“There is no jet-lag cure except sleep over time. It takes time. When you get to Australia, the minimum is like three days. For three to five days, you just have to slowly, slowly get there. You just kind of rough it out, right? If you feel like you want to lay down, have a beer or have a tequila or something, whatever you’ve got to do to stay up for a few more hours. But to be honest, what is the big cure? Sometimes you wake up at 5 in the morning, so you get up, you make a cup of tea, and you read your book in bed or you go for a walk.”