Ariana Rockefeller Expands into Handbags

by Sydney Sadick
ariana rockefeller

News flash! Ariana Rockefeller is expanding her namesake label with a range of handbags. The designer chats about the launch and partnering with former VP of production and design at Coach and Reed Krakoff to develop the design, which launches in fall 2016. 

Why did you expand into handbags?
I am often in my riding clothes so I wanted something that was functional for running around horse shows, from the stable to city, that could still represent the Ariana Rockefeller brand and aesthetic. I have always been a bit of a handbag girl and having my RTW collection in place for five years now, I thought about ways to expand and what I want in my closet in terms of accessories. Bags occupy this great place between function and beauty. They need to look great but they also need to, you know, serve a specific purpose. So that was a great challenge for me. I put an amazing team together last summer and we got to work!

What will we see in the line? 
Timeless silhouettes, gorgeous colors, and exquisite craftsmanship across four essential styles: the tote, the cross-body, the satchel, and the clutch. Style-wise I was inspired by equestrian sport, which is my great passion in life outside of fashion. So I thought a lot about what I need when I travel between the city and my stables in the countryside. But they really are designed for any woman who has to carry a bag between various environments: work meetings, brunch with friends, date night, errands. That’s why classic styling was so essential to me. It helps the bags maneuver from one context to another. There are some more literal horse references too—the stitching was inspired by my saddle and the brass detail on the satchel bag is a version of the hardware on my horse’s bridle. These are bags for every woman but the spirit of the horse world runs through them.

Why did you partner with the VP of production and design at Coach and Reed Krakoff for the designs?
Harlan Bratcher,
 former CEO of Armani Exchange and then Reed Krakoff, is a family friend and advisor. He connected me to Bassam Ali, who worked for years at Coach and then at Reed overseeing design and production for handbags. Bassam opened his own atelier/sample room in Brooklyn. He is a true artist and craftsman, yet is also very committed to having the collection be 100 percent my own vision and aesthetic.

Any colors we should look out for?
We started with a fall palette rooted in colors found in my family’s stable and around the horses: saddle (color of my custom showjumping saddle), chestnut (which is an elegant brown/red), hunter (a green/grey tone), and black. The colors are chic and grounded and look great on the smooth calfskin we used. I did the clutch in a persimmon ostrich skin for a bit of fun.

What are your favorite bag styles?
I love them all of course, but the tote is my favorite. It’s the literal work horse of the collection. It can carry your life and look chic and pulled together even when it’s overflowing with belongings for a busy day. It has this gorgeous ring closure on it that is a bit of a signature—it was inspired by the tack for my grandfather’s carriage horses. The interior features pockets with places for everything—phone, keys, horse treat, etc. I’m very attached to it.

What’s the design process been like? 
I was very clear on what I wanted—a few classic, wearable styles to start as the foundation of the collection. Bassam helped me realize those initial designs and then we fine-tuned,  selecting leather, deciding on the gauges of hardware, zipper pulls, closure types, top stitching, pocket placement, bag interiors. These little decisions make a bag into something that succeeds and is true to the vision. I got some wonderful guidance and then refined—that’s the development process. Once I got working samples into place, I gave some trusted and chic girlfriends the bags to wear and live with. Getting bags into practice and getting that feedback was so helpful. By December we were ready to photograph them—we did a great shoot at my family’s stable in Westchester, New York with photographer Arnaldo Aroyo, and now we have been hosting buyers meetings.

Any update on the distribution of the bags?
We are in conversations with some top department stores, which is very exciting. Too soon to say but hope to make the announcement soon. I am also excited about having the bags available at boutiques at the top horse shows around the country, including the Hampton Classic. The equestrian community has been so supportive of the brand. It’s great to have this niche clientele as well as a broader audience as well. The styles are all classic, simple, and timeless, and that’s what I think is so appealing about equestrian style. It’s effortless and elegant.

Have you been on the Florida circuit this winter/spring?
Yes, my horses and I have been in Wellington, Florida since January and will head back to North Salem, New York in early April. It has been a great season and I feel lucky to have talented horses and a wonderful team. It is always my favorite time of year because all my equestrian friends and I are within a five mile radius, which is a treat since at other times during the year we are spread out around the country and world.  

What’s was the most exciting part of this project?
Definitely being able to see the final product come to life. I immediately took the chestnut tote sample as my own and promptly filled it with belongings. It’s wonderful to have my creative vision realized and have true function and beauty.

Any upcoming spring travel plans?
Everyone and the horses work so hard during the 12 week circuit in Wellington, so my husband and I are looking forward to taking a few days escape in the Florida Keys before going to Miami to cheer on some friends riding in the Miami Longines horse show on South Beach.

What are some things we’ll find in your bag?
Wallet, keys, Lancome lipgloss, iPhone, SPF 60 sunscreen, various horse gear depending on the day: hoof pick, spurs, brushes, fly spray, etc. I always try to be over-prepared.

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