Meet Nina O’Neil, a fashionable D.C.-based designer who wears many hats, both literally and figuratively. By day, she works at the National Gallery of Art as a Curatorial Assistant. Her free time is reserved for hat and accessory-making as Ciao Nina. The results are bold and colorful, with a vintage twist.
We caught up with her at Union Market to chat about her designs and the city’s best vintage shopping spots.
What do you do at the National Gallery of Art?
It varies a lot from day to day, which I love. The NGA has a world-class collection of French pictures that are on display in the museum and travel the globe. I manage the department, project manage exhibitions, and handle the general comings and goings of our art and curators.
How do you balance your job there with hat-making?
Working in the arts is a wonderful thing. Since I am in a museum environment, everyone seems to encourage creativity and they get a kick out of me wearing hats at work. The inspiring workplace is a constant source of support and thoughtful feedback makes the balance possible. Also, I have an extremely supportive husband who believes in my talent and doesn’t mind cereal for dinner (so he says).
Where do you source your vintage hats, fabrics and other design elements?
Anywhere. Nothing is too strange to consider. I will incorporate anything into a hat if I feel the scale of the fabric pattern or composition of the item is worthy. I’ve used vintage model train trees, and giant shoulder-padded 80’s brocade jackets. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than giving new life to an item that has fallen out of favor as is.
If we’re spending a day hunting for vintage wares in D.C., where should we go?
Mercedes Bien in Adams Morgan, Treasury Vintage and Goodwood are all exceptional brick and mortar options for vintage goods. The stellar Foundry Vintage will be opening their new store on H Street in mid-December. I’m excited and already budgeting for them to be in my neighborhood!
On Saturdays, you have to visit the District Flea. You can find vintage glasses frames from the 50’s and 60’s (and an instant costume change) and plenty of great vintage clothing and furniture to sift through.
Your ultimate hat inspiration?
I am constantly inspired by photos of both of my grandmothers when they were in their twenties. My mom’s mother in England in the early 1950’s and my dad’s mother in the mid-1920’s in Italy. Fashion styles changed, but the incorporation of a hat could make anything look instantly chic and polished. Yestadt Millinery is always doing inspiring work.
Nina is wearing the Ripley in Whiskey Tortoise
Photos by Collin Hughes