As Ariella celebrates 45 years in the business, its chief executive speaks to Marie Davies about the history of the dress brand
Tell me about the early days of Ariella?
My brother Aristos graduated from the London College of Fashion and opened a store on 45 Carnaby Street in 1966. I was at school at the time but my brother and I would buy cloth from Poland Street and Berwick Street to make the dresses.
What was your first move into wholesale?
I remember a woman coming into the Carnaby Street store asking for two dozen of our dresses to re-sell. We had no wholesaling price at the time, so she bought them at retail and sold them on in her King’s Road store.
How did you build on that first wholesale account?
We opened a showroom in Greater London House [in Camden] and over the years we have sold to shops including Jane Norman and Miss Selfridge. Currently we supply [womenswear retailer] Alexon Group with own-label product. My brother would focus on the wholesale and I would deal with retail. We had 11 retail branches until my brother’s tragic death in 1986, when I sold the retail stores to concentrate on wholesale.
How is Ariella performing?
As a brand we are performing extremely well. Our turnover and profit was up 20% for the year end 31 March, 2011 and our growth came from an increase in sales from existing customers, and the UK and European department stores we supply achieving some of the fastest sell-through.
Why did you scale back wholesaling to independent stores in the 1990s?
In the 1990s we came out of many independents because we couldn’t handle the small production quantities. We were one of the last companies to move manufacturing offshore and we tried very hard to keep our UK factories alive but couldn’t compete with China. The minimum quantities went up as we started to manufacture abroad.
Do you see Ariella growing its business with independents?
It is conceivable and foreseeable because of the press we are receiving with our new sub-brand, Ariella Couture, with celebrities such as Myleene Klass and Amanda Holden spotted in the dresses. I think we would be wary to turn independents’ business down. Because of the launch of our transactional website it becomes more realistic, as the stock has to be in place to make the website possible. Ariella has always been about that element of exclusivity and I want that to continue.
When does the website and Ariella Couture launch?
This month. Ariella Couture will be a destination brand for red carpet and Oscar-ready dresses. They will retail for between £80 and £800.
Do you see Ariella returning to retail?
Does Ariella have an archive?
Yes, with more than 2,500 of our best pieces from the past 40 years.
Who encapsulates the Ariella brand?
She can be 18 or 48, but she always feels young, feminine and sexy.
What are your biggest-selling styles?
The Lana dress and our 1950s prom dress with a full skirt (pictured).
What are you backing for autumn 11?
Opulence. The one-shoulder dress will be strong and asymmetric lines.