Ariana Rockefeller comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. She is the great-great granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller Sr., the great-granddaughter of Junior, the granddaughter of David and daughter of David Jr. And while she is not the first Rockefeller to venture into fashion, with two cousins in the industry, she is the first to create a brand using her family’s prestigious name.
“I really try to honor my family’s sensibilities and values,” she says. “The last name has definitely opened some doors … (and it) definitely inspires interest, but I don’t think it’s made the process easier per se. At times it’s a little difficult to get people to see beyond the name in the fashion world. I might have had an easier time if, say, I’d gone into the oil business. But in general, I think starting a company requires a strong will and dedication no matter what. …So I tried to focus on it that way, really see it just as a venture that will stand on its own name with hard work.”
So far, it’s done just that. Her apparel collection, which launched in 2011, can only be described as classic and elegant, created with the modern woman in mind.
“I’m inspired by my lifestyle — my personal lifestyle as a businesswoman and an equestrian. I try to organize my workweek around the horses and my training, so my style needs to be (made up of) easy pieces that are simple and chic to change into after riding and run to a meeting or a lunch,” she says, adding that she chooses luxurious but resilient fabrics that flatter.
“It’s very focused on easy elegance and inspired by the life of a woman who is on-the-go and busy but also appreciates style and elegance.”
Family life in Cambridge, Mass., was as much an inspiration as the equestrian world.
“Going to dinner parties and meeting interesting people definitely gave me a sense and a love of elegance and Old World style.”
By the time she was 10, Rockefeller had dined with the likes of the Dalai Lama and Henry Kissinger, but she had also learned the importance of hard work. So choosing to use her family’s name to promote her brand seemed like the perfect way not only to honor their legacy but carry it forward.
“I’m extremely proud of my family’s history and their accomplishments and having the surname while growing up really made it necessary for me to define who I was both as an individual and as a part of an industrial-era family. Having horses contributed to keeping me grounded and self-assured, and my mother always insisted my sister and I clean our own path and muck stalls, so I stayed grounded and I had a good work ethic instilled in me from a young age.”
She put that work ethic to good use back in 2010 when she decided to move forward with her line. And she’s still putting it to use now as she’s gearing up to launch a line of handbags on Sept. 19.
“The handbag collection was definitely inspired by my grandfather’s stable in Westchester. It’s wonderful to be able to have pieces that I can bring to horse shows and carry with me when I’m in riding clothes, and not necessarily (able to) represent my brand in one of my dresses. I can still carry my tote bag and put all of my stuff in there, from horse treats to my makeup bag. It’s wonderful to be able to have an accessory line joining my brand. It’s an exciting time for the brand to be expanding, slowly but surely and in a fun way.”
Even with her busy design schedule, Rockefeller makes sure to leave time for riding horses.
“Our family’s estate is in Pocantico Hills and I spent a lot of time riding since I was a little girl. My mother was a foxhunter and we had horses growing up so I got to learn (how to ride) from a very young age at home in Massachusetts, and also at my grandparents’ farm in Westchester, where we went frequently,” she says. “I ride about four to five times a week when I’m in New York. I (go) to North Salem where I keep my horses, and then I also have a horse at my grandfather’s estate.”
As if that’s not enough, she’s also a sponsor of the American Gold Cup Sept. 14 to 18 at Old Salem Farm in North Salem. It’s one of only seven events that comprise the East Coast division of the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping North American League. The competition will include five Longines FEI Rankings competitions, culminating in the $220,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping New York, in which the top riders will compete for the American Gold Cup.
“I have a great relationship with Old Salem Farm and I go to the Gold Cup and the (Spring Horse Shows) every year, and they’re such amazing events. This year, Old Salem Farm and she are hosting a private launch party.
“It’s a great fusion of equestrian sport and fashion, which I think go hand-in-hand in so many ways. It’s the perfect setting.”
Handbags may be the next step, but a Rockefeller through and through, Ariana can’t help but look to the future.
“I want to make sure that as it (the brand) grows, it always stays true to my vision of functional elegance and simple chic, so I think that’s the most important thing to me — that the integrity of the brand stays and my vision is always there as it grows.”