Ari Dein

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AriDein_01Recently I’ve been really getting into lingerie: not crazy garter corset items, but wearable everyday pieces that feel and look amazing. I start with sets for the daytime and end with beautiful slips at night. When I stopped by the CFDA’s Incubator space to interview the designers behind Timo Weiland this past NYFW, I ran into Arielle Shapiro – the New York-born, former ballerina designer behind the line Ari Dein. It was like instant love. Her pieces are made to be wearable, flattering and feminine. It’s no wonder brands like Carolina Herrera have brought her on to design capsule collections for them. I was so thrilled when she made her fall line available for me to photograph exclusively at the studio and sat her down to get the story on how she went from working for other designers to starting her own line of lingerie….

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What do you think it is about lingerie that inspires confidence in women?

I think, to me, fashion creates clothing that allows women to change their entire sensibility about themselves. You put on a dress and you’ve become something, a certain style or character.

Lingerie helps you accept and embrace who you are because it’s something that only you know about. And because the fit is so crucial, the size becomes about loving your body. No one ever says, “Oh, I wish I had this size band…” It’s the Holy Grail when you find something that fits, and the fit changes how you feel about yourself.

I think there’s something modest about lingerie, actually. It’s a private thing, something only you know about…but then if someone else is going to see it, you’re prepared and they’re lucky.

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What first drew you to designing sleepwear?

I have a background as a ballet dancer, which meant being involved in costume production. So much of it was our moms hand-sewing crystals on our costumes, and even in class we’d make little barrettes and learn how to construct tutus.

A major inspiration for me was Barbara Karinska, the costumer of the New York City Ballet, (she worked a lot with George Balanchine), who would get vintage lace in Paris, bring it back and put it in the tutus of the performing ballerinas. When you’re in the audience, you can’t see the intricate details of a costume, so no one had been taking the time to put in these little elements of beauty. But Karinska’s thought was that the ballerina has to know she’s wearing something beautiful, she has to feel beautiful, so she will dance beautifully. She used to sew lockets with photos of the choreographer into the costumes, and only the ballerinas would know…the audience perceived the end result but would never know about the details.

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And to me, that’s what lingerie does. It changes the end result of the woman wearing it, even if no one knows the details…she does.

I also found that in fashion I’m never worried about, say, a coat – I want to know about the lining, the details. That’s the relationship for me, the inner interest. It’s less about me walking out the door and saying, Look what I have on today! It’s a very intimate approach to fashion.

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You collaborated with Carolina Herrera on their first ever sleepwear collection…what was that like?

It was really interesting! They are really the one and only brand I’ve ever aspired to in terms of feminine elegance; I have tremendous respect for what they do. If I had a dream, that would have been my dream. It was very miraculous that it came to be.

The level of attention to quality is the gift I got from them, and I will cherish it forever. And in the process of working with a brand that pays such attention to detail and is so meticulous, I set a very high bar for myself to meet coming into this project.  So my own work is easy now!

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You have an amazing fashion lineage…tell us about your connection to the Waldorf!

My great-grandparents had a fur flagship store at the Waldorf-Astoria; they also had stores in Miami and Atlantic City.

They were an immigrant family, they came through Ellis Island with nothing except eight children. Through all the struggles, he was able to raise eight kids, keep the family together, and grow his business successfully.

When I started developing my line, I didn’t have enough business background to know what to do…and there was a sense that if my great-grandfather could do this with no grasp of the English language, then I can do this.

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Where do you find your inspiration?

Travel is a big one. The spring collection was inspired by St. Petersburg! I was just in Singapore at Fashion Week and then went to Thailand…I also went to school in Italy, so I feel like there’s always an Italy – New York City balance in the feel of my line.

I’m also inspired by literature…sometimes a character in a book, or a poem.

Interiors are a big one as well. Especially art deco styles – that’s the era my great-grandparents were at the height of their business. And the industrial revolution! There’s some stitching in a few of my pieces that looks like train tracks.

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How excited were you to be part of the CFDA Incubator? How has that process been for you?

It’s been amazing. They have given me mentorship in almost every area of life you could possibly need it. It’s been incredible, I feel like without encroaching on my aesthetic or my mentality, they have really found ways to help me reach different areas of business and become stronger in those areas. I’ve never felt like “Oh now you’re in the club, but you have to be someone else, or put on airs.” If something’s not working they’ll work on it  with me but they’ve been so supportive.

I would say I had some very clear dreams when I walked in the door the first day, and now I can’t believe it’s ending. I feel like I’ve achieved in two years all I could hope to achieve in two years. At some point, the emotion of how sad that is will hit me.

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What are your goals moving forward? Where would you like to be in five/ten years?

Oh, who knows! Let the dust settle from moving my studio upstairs!

I have a foot in the door at some American stores. I’m hoping to grow my online business, which I like because it has direct customer interaction. In terms of product, I would like to offer items that are a little more attainable on a price-point level. A lot of girls looking for lingerie are going to small boutiques, they’re not going to Barney’s…I’d like to go back to focusing on smaller stores.

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Where can people find your pieces?

Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, 45 Ten, some Mom & Pop lingerie stores. As I grew into more of a department store business, I couldn’t focus on smaller stores. Now that Ari Dein has come full circle I can focus on them again.

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What kind of woman wears Ari Dein? Who is your ideal customer?

Hopefully she’s a confident girl who really appreciates that she’s valuable. She might be very value driven, she may be spendthrift – the things she is buying, she’s investing in.

I envision her having not a wardrobe of 40, but more like 4 shirts, and sometimes she sleeps in them and sometimes she wears them to dinner and sometimes she wears them over ball gowns. If she had a dinner party, she wouldn’t wear a cocktail dress in her own home. There’s a nice quality to having a hostess look.

These pieces live outside the home and inside the home, they don’t necessarily stay in the bedroom.

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What’s your favorite piece you’ve designed? 

Probably the pajama sets because I feel like that’s a way to make silk cover your whole body and it feels so good. It might not be realistic in the summer to sleep that way, but in terms of putting something on and transporting yourself to a completely different moment…it’s pretty perfect.

What’s your favorite thing to do in New York? / What’s a perfect day in New York for you?

I grew up going to the Met and to the ballet, so there’s an aspect of New York City to me that is always about having the best culture we can offer. But now the best thing about New York for me is that you’re never far from a properly made cup of coffee or espresso…so I have a few haunts like that. I’ve lived in too many different neighborhoods – as soon as you get used to your bagel place in one neighborhood you move and have to find another one!

I like to spend as much time outside as I can, and I appreciate being able to walk by the river.

I like to entertain so I’d much rather have people over and cook for them…I like to pretend I have a suburban life in the middle of the city

I think really the best part is that you can leave and come back and it’s always New York.

Below, the designer herself in her own design silk PJ set:

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All lingerie by Ari Dein // Modeled by Marina P. of MSA Models // Hair & Makeup by Ana Sicat