It’s been said that fashion is what you buy and style is what you do with it. And there’s always one person in the room who seems to live by that creed more than anyone else: Whether couture or consignment, whatever she wears is chic and cool, not to mention expertly combined in a unique, stealth way. Most importantly, she’s always in something that’s markedly her own take on expression.
In many a room, fashion designer and holistic health aficionado Arielle Taylor is that person. And while it used to be her surprising way of mixing laid-back cool (think oversized sunglasses and jaunty hats) with an enthusiastic, self-proclaimed “rainbow-cheerleader” (a mash-up of catsuits, sparkle and color a-la Burning Man-meets-the-70s), she’s now veering in a different direction.
Her namesake line, now displayed at 156 1st Avenue in the East Village and on shop-arielle.com, is a sleek capsule collection showcasing her passion for function, detail and elegance, yes, but also sustainability and ethics.
Most importantly, minimalism is her new obsession and motivator, prompting the line’s overall vibe. And, it’s this same mindset that now dictates her lifestyle, and she’s made serious changes (like paring down her wardrobe dramatically) to create more white space in her life. She says this shift has inspired a huge creative blossoming, and her sumptuous line is the result. Read on to learn more.
SBS: You have such a specific, unique eye for fashion, style and wellness. What was your childhood like? How did your style and self-care evolve?
Arielle Taylor: I grew up very mindfully, but at the time, I didn’t realize it was different than everyone else. To me, it wasn’t abnormal that I hadn’t eaten fast food and we didn’t have a TV.
My dad was a hunter and my mom was a yoga teacher and nurse. I always had a sense of self-reliance, and my brothers and I always had a ton of chores, making the rounds every morning. We were expected to be just as responsible as our parents.
I learned to sew at a young age (my mom put me in sewing classes), and I always wanted to make what I could wear. It was up to me to create a wide and exciting wardrobe. I made a lot of prairie dresses, always including a lot of pockets, since we lived a rural life, and I was taking care of animals. I was always muddy and dirty, but I also wanted to wear a dress and have my nails done.
My sense of fashion then came from the place of what do I want to wear? It’s a mixture of what feels good and comfortable plus how I want to present myself.
SBS: How and when did this evolve into working in the fashion industry?
AT: I actually went to college at UCF for languages while working full-time and raising my little brother. Outside of design, my other passion is communication. Articulation has always held a fascination for me. And fast forward, my entire team is Spanish speaking, so I couldn’t do the work now without that experience in college.
When I graduated, I moved to LA and started working at the textile mill my cousin ran. Between traveling to different designers, I realized I wanted to be in that industry. But I didn’t like LA. So, I moved to San Francisco. There, while focusing mostly on just surviving, I put myself through fashion school at City College.
There’s not really a fashion scene in SF, so my friends and I were the trendsetters. We didn’t succumb to flip-flops, and we did our own thing. Eventually I got an offer to teach children fashion design at a boutique school while still in school. After I graduated, I opened Arielle’s School of Fashion Design and Life (named by a student who noted we work on much more than ‘just fashion!’). There was tons of interest because San Francisco parents want kids to be learning all the time.
SBS: What was your entry into NYC like? How did you make your way into the competitive fashion world there?
AT: I was not planning on leaving California when I came to NYC to visit for a weekend. It was a month or two after Burning Man, and my friend and I were on our way to dinner in the East Village. I passed this park, and I went to sit in it to do a short meditation. The second I closed my eyes, it dropped into my lap like bricks: ‘NY is the next step,’ it said.
Even though I had a successful business, home, car and community, it felt so clear that this was the next step for me. I didn’t have a job, and I moved to NY in the dead of winter. I had an apartment, though, which was a godsend. I started applying everywhere, thinking, ‘I’m nice and professional!’
But, after a couple months interviewing everywhere, I got a message in a meditation to just shut up and surrender. I thought, ‘Everyone knows you’re here. Stop acting busy and extending yourself. Do I go to India? No, take the easiest route.’ So I picked a tree in Tompkins Square Park. It was almost spring, and I sat in front of this tree from sun up to sun down. It was sort of an act of protest since it felt like New York was ignoring me. I decided I’d wake up with the sun every day and eat whatever the Hare Krishna gave me. It was a beautiful period. Ideas would come up, sometimes counter productive, and I kept sitting.
One day, a little more than a month later, I got an email from Rachel Comey to do a design internship, which I did for about six months. Then, I got recruited to work at Alexander Wang in menswear technical design. It was a dream job for me at the time. I thought, this is why I moved to NY!
But, I started to realize corporate fashion was not a good fit for me. A lot of it has to do with the ethics and energy, as well as the fashion industry in general. There was no conversation about consciousness, ethics or being eco-friendly. They expect you to plug into the machine every day without regard to mental and physical health. I was worn down and disheartened, and I was confused because it was my dream job.
SBS: How did this evolve into you starting your own line?
AT: I got to the point of knowing that my job was not right for me. I left and went to South America for a couple months to get closer to plant medicine and how it was made, as well as work with the elders there. I learned from artisan communities, looking into what it’s like to make handicrafts in line with earth resources.
So when I came back, I was clear about what I wanted to do. I had never questioned that fashion was not my medium; I’m always sewing and designing. So I figured out: Either you get out, or you do it yourself…the right way.
So, I tried to piece things together and started collecting resources for sustainable textiles. I was learning about non-toxic and natural dyes, with my aim to become more informed about where we are in innovation and sustainability. It was a slow start. I had a tiny binder of sustainable fabrics that looked pretty hippy. Now I have three massive binders, and I’m focused on everything being sustainable and transparent.
SBS: How would you describe your aesthetic and that of your new brand?
AT: I was pretty full on maximalist for much of my life: My friends called me the ‘rainbow cheerleader.’ It happened overnight in a ceremony. I was brought to the core of myself, and I realized a designer’s obsession with the perfect straight line. Everything was white. I had to go home and get rid of everything. I went from 300 things down to 30. I believe, for all seasons, there are 30 items.
My line reflects all of that. It’s catered to this idea of a capsule collection. It’s 12 pieces, and I considered, what are the pieces I’d most want for fall? Then, how do I do them sustainably? There’s also an elevation to it, including different cutouts, seamlines and pockets (everything has ample pockets). Everything is finely tailored by hand; everything has gorgeous lining. These garments are not disposable.
The less we pay for something the less we value it, and that’s how we got in to this problem. We’ll buy something, wear it for two weeks and then put it on the curb. But if we spend more on it, we usually don’t.
I produce everything in NYC, and it’s all organic. My production costs are high, but I don’t see that as a problem. My trench coat costs me a hundred dollars to get it sewn, versus 10 dollars in China. But if you think about, should we really be paying someone 10 dollars for eight hours of work anyway? We should be paying more, and having less…but better.
SBS: How do you reconcile the logistics of running a company with your core values? How do you make that work as an emerging designer?
AT: What I came down to is, if I can’t do it right, I won’t do it at all. There were more pieces I wore and samples people were asking me about. But some of them couldn’t be a hundred percent sustainable, and I decided not to make any compromises.
I don’t consider that a problem. I consider that a filter. We have to work within parameters, and I keep checking myself against my values. If something doesn’t get done because if that, it’s not a big deal. It’s just not on brand.
SBS: How did you adjust your working habits for your own labels versus what you didn’t care for in large companies? What are key tools and ideas for you?
AT: I work in a high-tech way, but not working corporate. Whenever we work for someone else, we’re plugging into an existing machine. The question is, do you believe in the machine you’re plugging in to? It doesn’t mean the styles weren’t fantastic at Alexander Wang. I still hold him in high regard as a designer. But at the end of the day, seeing the waste that’s produced by the industry at large was not for me.
SBS: How do your pieces come to life?
AT: It all starts with design. I get my inspiration from so many places, and I also do a lot of introspective work including meditation retreats and plant medicine.
Everything is also checked against alignment and momentum…where I see the future of the industry going and what it is a woman truly wants to wear.
Then, I source textiles and I make everything in NY. It’s small-batch production, meaning 10 pieces at a time. Because of that, I’m paying a sample-making cost, versus the cheaper per-piece large-scale production. But I don’t keep a high inventory or have a huge overhead. If I sell out of a pattern, I take it to my sewer and continue from that. It’s supply and demand. The pieces are now at Modern Love Club in the East Village (156 First Avenue) and online at shop-arielle.com.
SBS: Your style has changed significantly, from multi-colored extravagance to elegant minimalism. How has that aesthetic folded in to your process and approach?
AT: Minimalism has been an important modality. I’ve tried to launch the label a few times unsuccessfully, and minimalism is the reason I’ve been able to launch it now. Minimalism created space for me: The wall needed to be white. I was over-decorating. And I realized, if I’m pointing all that at myself, there’s less for my actual creative process. Living essentially leaves tons of space to reflect and receive what’s coming in.
SBS: What’s your personal wellness routine?
AT: I’m very essentialist in my self-care, and I’m very economical with products. The same goes for my food. I think food is healthcare. That’s my insurance, and I’ve always eaten organically and vegetarian. I’m not a saint. I eat chocolate, and I’m a single woman. Sometimes I eat three apples a day, kale smoothie and a spoonful of peanut butter, for example. It can be very hodgepodge, but my food keeps me going and fortified, and I don’t get sick. I use a lot of Indian spices like Turmeric, and I use nutritional yeast and drink a shot of apple cider vinegar every morning. I also use intermittent fasting (eating for a six-hour window and taking one day off to do whatever I want) as a main tool.
For my face, in the morning I use an Indian clay mask with apple cider vinegar, and I also take a cold shower. It can legit replace coffee. Any time I’m in a mood, it works. I consider your spiritual body to have metabolism the same way as your physical body. I’m very invested in high spiritual metabolism, so when I feel like I’m constipated, so to speak, a cold shower works every time. The same goes for jump roping or any hard cardio. You’re a new person—unstuck.
SBS: What’s your morning ritual?
AT: I’m a huge fan of morning ritual, and I have been since I was 13. It gets tweaked a little bit, but there’s a framework. I go for a run every single morning, which is not just exercise, but that’s showing the day that I’m up and ready. I’m out there waving my arms saying ‘See me! Please let me play with you! Don’t ignore me!’ It’s also a connection to the earth. I’ll take my shoes off and connect, meditate, do some sun salutations and chanting. In the winter, if it’s too cold, I’ll use ClassPass instead of my run.
Arielle’s NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Souen and Divya’s Kitchen
Splurge Restaurant: Divya’s Kitchen
Fun Activity: Seeing a concert of a tribute band
Calming Activity: Visiting Tompkins Square Park or anywhere in the East Village
Fitness Studio: Kore Rhythm, led by Rodrick Covington
Online Resources: ManRepeller.com
Books: I love audio books like Michael Pollan’s new book, Essentialism