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After just missing each other in Paris this season, I catch up with Aruna Seth on one of her monthly trips to the Big Apple. We meet for breakfast at Penelope on Lexington Avenue, and Aruna arrives with bags of samples for a day of appointments around the city. She gives details about her week-long trip, which consists of many press and buying appointments, and a weekend trunk show at Gabriella’s in Tribeca. “People are coming from as far away as Atlanta, so I’m excited about that,” she says.
Aruna has a particular love for Manhattan. “New York is much better for networking, as people are more accepting of new designers here. As a young designer, you have to keep knocking on people’s doors, but it is far easier to make connections in New York.” And connections she has made. Aruna’s Italian-made collection, which retails from $400 to $4,500, is sold in the U.S. at Gabriella’s and Botticelli’s in New York; Priscilla of Boston; Gregory’s in Dallas; and Renée Strauss in Los Angeles. Aruna’s dream, though, is to open a store in her native London. Next month, she’ll begin shopping for a location in Chelsea, and hopes to be up and running by the end of the year. I ask what she is most looking forward to in a store. “To see the full collection together,” she replies. “[Plus], the first question everyone always asks is, ‘Where is your store?’”
Developing a luxury customer has been important to Aruna since her 2008 launch, and she says she conducts many one-on-one appointments in hotels around London with clients. “I have many constant, loyal clients — and now celebrities, as well.” Goldie Hawn, Sophia Bush (at right) and others have worn Aruna Seth styles on the red carpet, and most recently, an unnamed princess from Russia came shopping. “Luxury is tough,” says Aruna, “and everyone’s got a story. I just want to focus on my brand, which is the most important thing to me, and grow my business in the most strategic way I can. I want to be a luxury brand, not just another luxury designer.” Eventually, Aruna hopes to open stores in New York, Milan and Paris, in addition to her planned London location.
Half of the Aruna Seth business derives from bridal customers, who, like red-carpet starlets, are fond of the Cinderella style, which features more than 3,000 Swarovski crystals on a sculpted wedge and retails for $4,500. “[Bridal is] all about perfection. Everyone wants to look like a celebrity on their wedding day.” Another reason she has seen success in the bridal market is comfort. “I’ve designed my shoes to hug the foot. Especially on your wedding day, you want to be smiling and you want to be happy wearing your expensive luxury shoes.” Aruna’s philosophy: “I want ladies to have a glamorous wow factor with a luxury experience in every part of the shoe, including its comfort [features].”
Next year, Aruna plans to expand her handbag collection, which consists of a few soft nappa-leather day and evening bags and a couple of wallets. “It takes time to build a brand, and you have to have a core focus,” she stresses. A lifelong Londoner born to an Indian father and Jamaican mother, Aruna studied business at Liverpool University, in addition to taking courses at the London School of Fashion, which she says taught her the ins and outs of running a business. Likewise, working in her father’s London-based firm, Ascot International Sports & Footwear, allowed her to see firsthand the innerworkings of every department in a larger company. “Being a designer is one thing, but having your own business is another,” she says. “It’s definitely in my blood and I always imagined I wanted to design girly, pretty shoes. But the business side takes 70 percent of the time, with 30 percent for design. ”
Confident and charming, Aruna is open about her life as an emerging designer. “As you grow, you learn what buyers are looking for and what people like about your brand. At first, everyone wants either more press or more stores, so you have to reach out to both.” Our conversation turns to trade shows, which Aruna has opted out of after showing at Micam for the past few seasons. Moving forward, she will show at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris and in a showroom in Milan.
Aruna, who travels every three weeks to Italy and once a month to New York, says, “As a designer, it’s very important to travel, not just to meet buyers and the press, but also to take in different environments, to expand. It makes you who you are. You have to have a perspective on the world to design for a global customer.” What’s next for the designer? A much-needed holiday in Spain before gearing up for the next season. And what travel advice does she have? “If you ever want to have a fantastic vacation, go to Jamaica. They know how to throw a great beach party.”