In 2013, Florrisant native Neil Bardon founded Saint Rita Parlor, a concept brand offering “an intimate bond between the designer and consumer that [didn’t previously] exist.” Named in honor of his grandmother Rita, who was “extremely religious,” he explains, “She was a saint to me. And parlors are the warmest and most inviting place in your house — an intimate place you share with close friends and family.”

Bardon, who is also the brand’s creative director, started the company due to “gaps in the fashion and design industry. … Things are getting churned out so quickly and without any sort of intent more for profit than integrity.”

While many designers regurgitate designs season after season, Bardon prefers to take things slowly, creating new eyewear collections as he sees fit. “When [brands create a new line] every six months, it’s not enough time to even think about it, let alone execute it efficiently,” he explains. “It’s important that I have a hand in everything in the brand. It starts with eyewear, and I always do accouterments [including made-to-order clothing and leather items] for each of my collections to show the range of my design strengths as well as tie in the concept and articulate the story and narratives behind the brand.”

For his debut collection, Bardon created a clothing collection inspired by the 1940s. “I never studied fashion; I had only admired it from afar and knew what I liked,” he says. “Each one of my collections in succession corresponds with my grandmother’s life. The new collection is the Florissant collection [inspired by the] 1950s, [then the next collection will be] the ’60s, and so on and so forth.”

Bardon is not currently producing full production runs of clothing in an effort to focus on eyewear, but he has developed other avenues of creation. By the beginning of 2018, Saint Rita Parlor will be a “full-on” apothecary. “I launched my signature fragrance last year, and since that went completely crazy in a good way, I created incense, candles and burning papers that all tie into my grandmother and my childhood.”

The signature fragrance includes notes of whiskey, tobacco and rose, inspired by his grandmother tending to her rose garden while drinking a whiskey and water and smoking a hand-rolled tobacco cigarette. His second fragrance, called Rita’s Car, “smells exactly like my grandmother’s ’86 Cadillac used to — leather, smoke and musk.”

Much of Bardon’s inspiration to create Saint Rita Parlor came from a near-death experience in 2008. “I blacked out at the top of a staircase and went comatose for four or five days,” he says. “I woke up to a room full of people and a priest standing over me in what was a very surreal moment. My grandmother had been staying at my parents’ house that night, and she may have saved my life along with everyone in my family who was praying for me. She was very saint-like in that moment, so I wanted to pay homage to her and her life. If she had not been there that night, I wouldn’t have started this brand.”

The most important part of any “artifact,” as Bardon refers to pieces in his collections, is “When you buy something, you want it to stand the test of time and for it to be passed down; that’s the philosophy of my brand. I’m not just a fashion designer. I create things that can visually carry the brand’s narrative. What I’d like to obtain in the future is kind of the level of a modern day Yves Saint Laurent where I can still maintain that classic style but not stick with just one period or era — it adapts with the time and lives in the moment. An exclusive, limited run of ‘artifacts’ is what I’m going for.”

Sustainability is key to the brand and Bardon’s lifestyle. “I have one outfit and have been wearing it for several years. When I get holes in anything, I patch them. I try to be sustainable and not focus on how the industry is trying to change people’s minds and tell them what they can and can’t wear or buy. The style I aspire to is very avant-garde in that I want people to look into what I make and not necessarily get the whole picture but want to seek it out for themselves. That’s why there’s no ‘about’ section on the website.”

Bardon says music paved the way for his interest in fashion. “My friends’ older brothers and my dad got me into music at a young age,” he says. “That really shaped me from the time I was in third grade and showed up in a Grateful Dead T-shirt with a pocket chain wallet and long hair, and everyone in my school didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve always been kind of a nonconformist.”

Saint Rita Parlor is a labor of love that Bardon undertakes alone. “I’m at home shipping orders, printing labels and doing inventory; every day is a different job,” he explains. “I don’t have to hire a creative director, a private designer, a PR person, a marketing person or a sales rep; I do all that myself.”

As for what the future may hold for Saint Rita Parlor, Bardon says, “The cool thing about the future is that it’s always changing and never certain.”

For more information, visit SaintRitaParlor.comM