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INTERVIEW: Willem Founder And CEO Sean McDonagh On The Brand's Montauk And Peter Beard Inspired Collection

Nicole Barylski

Willem Founder & CEO Sean McDonagh at the collection's launch party. (Photo: BFA)

Willem New York's latest collection is an ode to Montauk, a place Founder Sean McDonagh knows well, but with a unique twist - "The End" in 1970's, inspired by renowned photographer Peter Beard.

We caught up with McDonagh to learn about his connection to the East End, the new line, shooting in Montauk and more.

Tell us a bit about the time you spent in Montauk growing up?

The lookbook was shot in Montauk. (Courtesy Photo)

SM: I have been going out to Montauk since I was born - it has always been a home to me. There was just something special in the air out east that is pretty indescribable and sacred. Driving out, making that turn onto Main Street in East Hampton, seeing the "White House" automatically took a weight off my shoulders and signaled it's time to relax. Driving on the rolling hills of Old Montauk Highway and hitting that one hill where the coastline peaks out filled me with excitement. Montauk has this amazing quality of being able to adapt to how you are feeling. Yes, there is the wild roar of the weekend city crowd in town but there are also the very peaceful fields across from the Deep Hollow Ranch that is just a very pure place. There is just so much to unravel in Montauk. Exploring Montauk over the years has been the best part in my eyes.

How did that influence the collection?

SM: The Willem collections are as much about learning and discovery as they are about creating an amazing garment. My goal always going into a collection is to try to tell a story that I found interesting that I know my audience probably has not been able to find. Peter Beard, who was this collection's muse, is a very well known character in the art and photography worlds but maybe not so much in other circles. If I can get someone who is wearing Willem to either look at Beard's work, explore the lesser known grounds of Montauk, or even just go to Montauk for the first time I think I've reached my goal for the collection.

The collection is based on 1970's Montauk, inspired by renowned photographer Peter Beard's work. Why did you select that particular timeframe and what about Beard's work inspired you?

SM: I studied history when I was at Harvard so I have always been about looking backwards to push forward and create something new. I am also very into contemporary art, especially during that timeframe. At that time people like Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel and Keith Haring were all spending a lot of time out in Montauk so I figured that was a good start. Then I saw these incredible photographs of those artists and their friends that I thought paralleled that unique feeling in the air of Montauk we talked about earlier. All of those images were taken by Peter Beard. Then, doing more research on Beard I found myself blown away by how interesting he was and how he was able to bounce back and forth through immense complexities and bold simplicities in both his work and the way he goes about his life.

You documented the collection in Montauk with Waris Ahluwalia, Bill Powers, Brett Robinson and Max Robinson as models. What locales did you shoot at?

SM: One thing that I feel pretty strongly about is not seeing the people that we work with as models! All of these guys are more like idols and colleagues. And everything that we do has been really thought through. So, for our shoot we were fortunate enough to shoot in some of the same exact locations as the images that Beard shot of iconic figures like Mick Jagger and Warhol. By choosing the same grounds that these icons hung out on, we wanted to make that statement that there is both the current guard, being Bill and Waris, and then new guard, being Brett and Max, that are keeping Montauk the creative hub that it has always been.

The lookbook was shot in Montauk. (Courtesy Photo)

Where can we find the collection?

SM: Right now the collection is only available on our website, www.willemnyc.com, but we have some plans in the works about something exciting to come out east. Details are not set in stone yet so the best way to stay in the loop is to follow us on Instagram @willemnewyork.

Do you still visit Montauk often? If so, what are some of your favorite spots?

SM: Yes, I will be in Montauk a lot this summer whenever I am not in Los Angeles working on the next collection. As far as my go-to spots, for clothes and inspiration Melet Mercantile is an absolute must. Bob Melet, who works with us here at Willem, is one of the best, if not the best, vintage guy out there and his outpost is hidden away with some of the best books, jewelry, and all things vintage. It doesn't get better than a sandwich at the Ditch Witch or Joni's. Sunsets at Montauket to start your night and ending it at either Liar's Saloon or sitting around a fire with all of your friends. It does not get better than that.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

SM: Just to be on the look out for some exciting new projects we have coming up for the summer and leading into the fall. I'm really excited for the next muse and storyline we have coming up.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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