Q&A With Neil Bardon of Saint Rita Parlor + Holiday Trunk Show At OSO Style Lab
St. Louis native Neil Bardon began as the former drummer of Lapush and has since evolved further into a sought-after designer of haute eyewear. His Los Angeles-based shop, Saint Rita Parlor, is deeply rooted in history and personal experience, as his grandmother Rita inspires every product line. The result is a showcase of beautifully nostalgic, unique pieces that have been featured in Pepsi ads and seen on celebrities such as Ted Danson and Chuck Inglish.
Bardon will be hosting a trunk show in St. Louis this Friday, Dec. 30 at OSO Style Lab, where he will be showcasing his latest collection and signature fragrance. Drinks, DJ sets and eyewear galore will be on the docket for the evening, and attendees who RSVP with this link and show up will be eligible to win a free bottle of Neil’s signature fragrance or an OSO gift card. Continue on to our Q&A below with the meditative Bardon and read how he built the keenly personal brand.
How did you transform in your creative endeavors from creating music to eyewear?
When you’re in a band, there’s more than one person you have to rely on. So if someone’s getting married, having a kid, or switching jobs, things change. I do everything in my company: I make the fragrance, the clothing, graphic design, I handle all the shipping orders, etc. It’s really a one-man show. It goes with my whole concept and theory of the way that I approach design, which is not only from a designer standpoint, but as a consumer. I don’t want something that’s going to be mass-produced. These days if you need to buy a chair, most people go to Ikea. I would do research and go to an estate sale to find things that have more of a story to them, more substance, not just something cranked out to make money. I could talk all day about that. It wasn’t that I chose this over music, because I still actually write a bunch of music and play. I’m actually working on a self-titled solo album right now.
What was the moment that pushed you to start this endeavor?
In 2009 I had a near-death experience in St. Louis when I was in town from Chicago going to Nashville. I passed out at the top of a flight of stairs and was comatose. I had a traumatic head injury and was out for days, unaware if I was going to survive. I woke up to a priest above me with a bible reading and people crying around me. They never figured out why it happened; they just told me to take better care of myself. Everyone crowded around me and they were praying—not that I’m religious at all—but when I woke up, my muse, my Grandma Rita, was there. I said, I’m going to name my company after you. She was like, ‘You’re silly.’ That was a pivotal moment in my life. Not only for what I was pursuing, but that I started taking this more seriously. It was an eye-opening moment. Life’s fragile, as common as it is to hear.
How do your grandparents inspire the product lines?
It’s very personal. The whole brand is very personal. My fragrance is all the things my grandma enjoyed: tobacco, bourbon and roses. She would smoke a cigarette and have bourbon with water while tending to roses in her garden. Roses play a key role in a lot of naming of products. Florissant [where Bardon grew up in St. Louis] means to bloom. It’s a French word. The brand also pays homage to my most favorite decade design-wise in the modern era [1950’s], which had really sick eyewear. My grandpa had glasses that were really thick. NASA scientists and engineers would be wearing these thick, heavy frames.
How are those ideals showcased in your photography and lookbooks?
Artifact is very essential to me. To capture an artifact of that time, recreating it and being inspired by timeless attributes are very apparent and intentional. I shoot my lookbooks in film on a vintage camera. For the Florissant Collection, I shot it at my old Catholic school in Florissant, Missouri. The photographer came from London and I had my model, Justin, come with me from LA. We shot it very much like you would have in the 50’s. It’s true to the era. It’s not a typical high-fashion. I was like ‘Justin, what do you want to do?’ He was like, ‘I want to walk around and smoke spliffs.’ I was like, ‘Well, that’s illegal here and we’re at an elementary school, so be weary of that.’ But that’s what we did.
What inspires you about St. Louis?
It’s where I’m from. You never forget where your family is from. St. Louis has given me a lot of things besides memories. You don’t forget where the concept and the story was rooted. I’m very into the concept and content of where a brand should live. In the current climate of fashion, it’s ‘I make this thing, and I sell it.’ It’s not as deeply rooted; it’s not as personal. I bring an intimate bond between designer and consumer that has been forgotten, or they don’t even think about it. When someone orders a Thom Browne suit, he doesn’t touch that. He probably doesn’t design it anymore. I’m not knocking Thom Browne, but I just do it differently. All the way through the final execution and shipping of the product, I touch it. I do everything.
Cover photo by Daniel Johnson, @danielnjohson
Eyewear lookbook photos by Guy Clark, @guy_clark