Ariana Rockefeller draws inspiration for her new fashion line from Picasso’s work, such as Girl Before a Mirror, 1932 (on view at the MoMA).
“It’s a heritage brand,” says Ariana Rockefeller of her fashion line, whose Fall 2013 collection debuts this summer. The word heritage, when associated with a Rockefeller, can mean everything from the clan’s decades-long commitment to philanthropy to its pioneering involvement with the great contemporary art movements of the 20th century. But it’s the art component of the family legacy that Rockefeller drew on when developing her collection of easy resort pieces—caftans, palazzo pants, and minidresses—that feature such personal monikers as the Margaret (for Ariana’s grandmother) and Colombier—a beach on St. Barth’s, where the family had a villa, that is still known to locals as Rockefeller Beach. “Every name has a meaning and a connection to me.”
Rockefeller, the great-granddaughter of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who was instrumental in founding the Museum of Modern Art, says that many Picasso works, both in the museum and in her family’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, helped when developing the collection’s color palette and patterns. For example, the chevron print depicted in Picasso’s Femme et Chien Sous un Arbre became a vivid fabric motif for short-and full-length crêpe-dechine caftans. Matisse’s exquisite use of the color green, along with the vivid Picasso works, helped her realize, “you don’t always need to play it safe with color.”
While the Rockefeller art collection inspired her palette, the accomplished women in her family have also served as great influencers. She admires how Abby Aldrich Rockefeller “pushed the boundaries and took risks” in her day by championing modern art. “She really was a renaissance woman, one of the first to buy and collect artists like Picasso and Frida Kahlo.” Rockefeller says her grandmother Margaret, married to patriarch David Rockefeller, also taught her how to keep life in balance. “She was an incredible woman and loved to socialize. But she really was a blue jean kind of gal. She’d drive her tractor, then throw on a beautiful caftan and go to a black-tie gala at MoMA. I love that juxtaposition of having your feet on the ground, then going to a dinner party. You don’t have to be in a tuxedo all your life.”
For her fashion line Rockefeller collaborates with design director Rob Younkers, a professor at Parsons The New School for Design, whom she met through makeup artist Sarah Uslan, a lifelong friend from her boarding school days. She says the East Coast “is all about your roots and long-term friendships. I just love having a team of people who are friends. I think that’s the most important thing in business and in life, having an amazing group of people supporting you and having your back.”