Balancing her equestrian passion in the countryside and her namesake clothing line in the big city, Ariana Rockefeller pulls off living both a metropolitan and rural lifestyle with ease. The New York fashion designer with the surname that’s a household name exudes a sophisticated, classic style and a deep love for all things equine. Ariana is a dedicated amateur jumper rider partnering with her 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse Out Of Beag (aka Stuart) in the show ring, and has picked up the reins continuing the Rockefeller family’s carriage driving tradition. Ariana recently added a new line of beautiful leather handbags to the Ariana Rockefeller brand and was gracious enough to chat with Sidelines about fashion, fame and horses.
What inspired you to create your line of handbags?
I’d always wanted to evolve the Ariana Rockefeller brand of classic clothing to include accessories, and I wanted a beautiful and practical handbag that could work for me between the city and the stable. I really wanted to have something when I’m in my riding gear to represent my style and it was just a natural progression of my brand. Things fell into place with the line and with the people that came into my life to really pursue expanding into handbags. It was the right time and the right place. It was exciting to launch the bags to the press last February and then celebrate them at the American Gold Cup at Old Salem Farm, which was the perfect venue to have the bags come launch to the market.
How would you describe your handbags?
The styling of the handbags is very much equestrian and classic. The hardware and stitching is all inspired by my horse’s show tack. That has been really fun: to be creative and inspired by my horses and equestrian lifestyle.
What items do you carry in your own handbag from city to the barn and back?
In addition to the essentials — keys, wallet, cell phone — I always have my Smythson day planner. I’m so old school in that way. I love to be able to write down notes and appointments or do a quick sketch of an idea when something inspires me. My horse has very sensitive skin so I always have a little bit of cocoa butter or some sort of skin salve for him if I see a little nick on him or something. I’m very momma bear about him. If I’m going to a horse show, I’ll put in fly spray … the whole thing. The tote in my handbag line can pretty much hold the kitchen sink — it’s amazing. I can have all my hair nets, hair bands, put in my riding crop, hoof pick — it carries absolutely everything. Depending on the day, there may be more horse things or less if I’m going to a business meeting in the city.
For people who are interested in shopping for your handbags, where can they be found?
It’s all on my website, arianarockefeller.com, and we’ll be doing trunk shows and pop-up stores in major cities.
You were a political science major in college; at what point did you realize you wanted to be in the fashion industry and launch your own line?
Political science is such a great foundation for understanding human nature, business and how we relate to society, so I always thought it was such a great base for the next level of my education or business. I’m so grateful for the education I got with Columbia’s core curriculum. I’d always wanted to run my own business and have my own brand and fashion label, but I wanted an excellent and well-rounded education first and foremost.
How do you balance your horse life, your social calendar, time with friends and family, and your career?
It’s definitely a busy calendar, but I’m lucky that my particular aesthetic with the fashion label is very synonymous with the equestrian lifestyle and a classic sense of style. It’s sort of understated elegance, which is wonderful. As I mentioned with the launch of the handbags at the Gold Cup, I’m lucky I can have my business and horse life go hand-in-hand a lot of the time. It takes a lot of effort to organize my calendar, but if you stay organized and carve out time for the priorities, it’s very possible. I’ll make sure to have at least five days to ride my horse and schedule my meetings in the city for Mondays, especially for when the barn is closed. That’s one of the great opportunities of running my own business: I can prioritize.
Is your husband a rider, or does he go to the barn with you?
Matt was not a horse person. His background is in finance (he’s now an entrepreneur himself), and so of course he can be a little shocked when my horse is getting acupuncture or a massage — he gets a little baffled. But he’s amazingly supportive and he’s actually become a wonderful horse show husband. He has a great fondness for my horses. He’ll hold them for me between classes. One day our groom had another horse to bring up to the ring so Matt actually brought him up from the barn to the ring for me, so that was a big step for him. He loves the horses and he knows how important it is to me, so he’s very supportive.
What’s your typical riding outfit for schooling?
I love my Tailored Sportsman breeches — they’re the best. I’ll wear a beige pair or I have a great navy blue pair which I love. I’m a little bit traditional — I always either wear a button-down white shirt or one of the long-sleeve sun shirts with the zip-up neck, which I love because they’re lightweight. I keep it simple and chic. My trainers growing up were big on shirts tucked in and boots polished so I had that ingrained in me from a young age. About as crazy as I’ll get is Stuart’s show bonnet, which is navy with rhinestones. My horse will have a white jumper pad and a black pair of polos for schooling. We keep it pretty simple.
What’s it like being a Rockefeller — having the name and coming from a family of influential Americans that everyone studies in their high school history class?
Growing up with the last name you definitely get questions and people are interested. A lot of people think or say, “Oh, well, you don’t have to work.” I think the work ethic of my family is so strong and that’s something I’ve always admired about my grandparents, and my parents, and my cousins. It’s an important value to us. Everyone has really worked hard to find their own passion and work hard at it, whether it’s their own business, an NGO or a charity they really care about. That’s one of the misconceptions about the family, that we think, We don’t have to work so why would we? I think working hard and working hard at something you love is so rewarding no matter who you are. For me, working hard at my business and my career as an amateur show jumper has been my passion and my inspiration.
In what division do you compete?
We just moved up to the 1.20-meter adult jumpers. My horse Stuart was doing the 1.40-meter in Europe before I bought him, so he has incredible scope and it’s great to have the potential to move up on him. He’s such an incredible horse and I’m learning a lot. It’s exciting to have goals with a talented horse. Of course, I’ll always put his well-being first. It’s always that way for me with my horses.
When you met Stuart a couple of years ago, was it love at first sight or ride?
Yes, it was love at first sight and ride with Stuart. It was January in Florida and my trainer Frank Madden brought me to try Stuart and he said, “Ride him around a little bit and then take him over that jump over there.” It was quite a healthy jump and I don’t think I’d ever done that height before. As soon as Stuart went over it, I was like, Alright, this is the horse for me! It felt so natural and the chemistry was there between us. He’s such a good boy. As an amateur, it’s so important to have a horse that can help you achieve your goals but that can also take care of you. It’s important to have a horse that’s a little forgiving of a few mistakes here and there. I’m very lucky and Stuart is doing great. We were seventh in the jumper classic at the Gold Cup in our division. It was our goal to be in the top 10 and we were.
What about your other horses?
They’re definitely always family. We have a childhood horse, Scotch, our retired foxhunter, who’s still with my mother on the North Shore of Boston and he must be almost 28. He’s an older guy and he’s doing great. And I have another horse, Chogun — I was doing smaller jumpers with him — but he’s much happier as a carriage horse and so I’m learning to carriage drive with him. I have Chogun and I have Stuart, and of course, horse shopping is always on the forefront. There are always more horses. I really try to listen to my gut instinct when trying horses and there really needs to be that chemistry there. The next one will have to be on par with the relationship I have with Stuart.
Are you driving for fun or do you think you’ll want to be competitive in the driving world also?
It’s like with anything, opportunities present themselves and I’m a naturally competitive person. “Sportsmanship” is the term I like to use — I love the thrill of competition and the horses love it. If there were a fun opportunity, with coaching, I’d definitely try it. Carriage driving has been a family tradition for generations. My grandfather still drives at 101 and he has his stables in Westchester, New York, and Maine. When our family is there, I’ve been learning how to drive from Sem Groenewoud, who’s a 1982 gold medal winner for the Dutch driving team. Sem now runs my grandfather’s stables, and he was excited to get me to try it and start driving, and I love it. Sem is one of the best horsemen I know, and I’m lucky enough to have him teach me to drive a two-in-hand carriage, and about horses in general. I love anything to do with horses and working with horses — there’s always something to learn and trying a different discipline just makes me a better horsewoman in the end.
Can you give us a few hints of what your fashion line will be like for Spring 2017?
Honestly, with my line it’s exciting, but there are not any real surprises. I’m very loyal to the classics. When I formed my apparel collection, I just had about 10 silhouettes that I perfected, like the perfect pair of pants and the perfect top. Each season I’m really sticking to those core pieces and we might add in a different color or fabrication to one of the same patterns, but pretty much it’s very true to my concept of elegant basics. Our perfect little tunic dress will be the same fit and silhouette season after season. I love the basics and I love that classic uniform — which is very much what I love about equestrian style. I love the breeches and white shirt and the jacket and it’s all sort of like a uniform. I see my collection as daily uniforms, from the cocktail dress you can put on and feel great in to the day dress that you can run around and go to meetings in. It’s the same with my handbags: They’re functional and classic and simple. You can count on the elegant basics.
About the writer: Susan Friedland-Smith of North Tustin, California, is a middle-school teacher and blogger who writes about the “Real Horse Life of Orange County” featuring her off-track Thoroughbred, Knight; barn stories; and product reviews on the blog SaddleSeeksHorse.com. Follow her on Twitter @SaddlSeeksHorse, Instagram @SaddleSeeksHorse or Facebook’s Saddle Seeks Horse fan page.