There’s a pomp and circumstance that one might expect when first meeting anyone with that illustrious and undeniably American last name: Rockefeller. However, from what I recall, the first time I crossed paths with the one-and-only Ariana Rockefeller and her now husband of eight years, Matthew Bucklin, was on—of all places—a rollicking dance floor in celebration of the New York Botanical Garden’s annual Winter Wonderland Ball. Like many New York friendships, it was on the social circuit where Ariana and I first connected as I got my start as a party columnist for a Manhattan newspaper. Since then, I’ve grown to know many more sides of her, and to do so is to understand that she’s much more than just a family name.
To her thousands of Instagram followers, she’s an arbiter of style. This past May, I watched her turn heads on the Met Gala steps for a sea of flashing cameras in a gown designed by Elizabeth Kennedy. Crafted using a generous 50 yards of pink duchess satin, Ariana chose to accessorize with purpose, opting for several heirloom pieces sourced from her grandparents’ collection of rarities, including vintage earrings by Raymond C. Yard and a vintage bracelet by Van Cleef & Arpels. These were, upon first inspection, just beautiful creations, but they also served to draw attention to an upcoming charity auction at Christie’s, one that would ultimately yield a record-breaking $832.6 million—all donated to a group of 12 causes selected by her parents, Peggy and David Rockefeller, themselves.
Away from the cameras, she’s also a seasoned entrepreneur. Under the Ariana Rockefeller moniker, she’s busy designing, manufacturing and distributing her own collection of equestrian-inspired, ready-to-wear clothing and accessories. Last spring, the assortment included a capsule collection of handbags sold exclusively at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve resort located on a stretch of sun and sand in Puerto Rico, originally owned by her great-uncle, conservationist Laurance Rockefeller. Opened in 1958, the property was once frequented by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and JFK, and while we spent a weekend celebrating with a group of friends and clientele alike, Ariana and Matt also took the time for a taste of family history with a visit to her great-uncle’s preserved island residence.
Above all, though, Ariana’s a decorated athlete, one I’ve watched glide over towering oxers with her trusted horse, Out Of Beag, whom she calls Stu. And although she still finds time to pop into Manhattan to support local causes—the ballet, opera and Humane Society among them—and to catch up with friends at her annual holiday party, Ariana has rightfully doubled down on her show jumping participation. It’s grown to include a fierce competition schedule on the global show jumping circuit, as well as a demanding training regimen in the de facto equestrian capitals: Wellington, FL, in the winter and Europe in the summer. This summer, she added two new jumpers to her stable and continued her training with Olympian Laura Kraut, but she has a soft spot for Upstate New York, where her family has ties going back generations. On occasion, she visits the American Farmland Trust in Saratoga Springs, an organization founded by her grandmother, Peggy McGrath Rockefeller.
These wide-ranging elements that make up the life of Ariana Rockefeller blend together seamlessly, and while continuing to honor her distinguished legacy, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that she’s making a name for herself by gracefully ushering one of America’s first families into the 21st century and beyond. That may be no easy feat, but it’s certain that on all fronts, this Rockefeller is always aiming higher.
What was the name of your first horse? Tell me about him.
Growing up, our family had a horse named Huey. He was a sweet and patient quarter horse that my sister and I loved dearly. He taught us to trust and love horses.
Tell me about your current horse, which you so enthusiastically chronicle on social media.
I currently have three horses in my working string. Out Of Beag is my 14-year-old Irish sport horse gelding. Riosco is a 12-year-old Selle Français gelding, and Chaccadella is my newest addition, an 11-year-old Oldenburg mare. They are all very intelligent, have very sweet personalities, and I’m afraid I spoil them all a bit.
How do you balance your design interests with your passion for riding?
Show jumping is a very mental sport, so when I am competing, I devote all my attention to the horse. So I’m really grateful to the people who support me in my design and equestrian business. Much like equestrian style, my brand’s aesthetic is uniform and classic, so my design work stays streamlined. Keeping things simple is the key for me.
Would you ever consider designing men’s accessories?
I would when the time is right! I envision the AR brand to encompass many lifestyle areas, and am excited to see how it grows in time.
Following the historic Christie’s sale of your grandparents’ collections to benefit 12 designated charities, what are your feelings about their dreams and wishes?
I know that my grandparents would’ve been thrilled with the results of the auction. It was meaningful and thrilling for me to witness my grandpa’s wishes put into action, and the incredible results that will facilitate important philanthropic work. He often spoke of his intentions to me, and I was so pleased to see how Christie’s honored his vision with style and integrity.
So many people prefer animals of all types to other humans. What are your thoughts about that mindset?
I think the connection between humans and animals is a wonderful thing. I do consider my horses friends and family members. I also value the people in my life, especially the team I work with daily, who devote their lives to the horses and the show jumping sport. It is truly a team effort of both people and animals.
What’s the one thing more people should better understand about your beloved horses?
They are powerful creatures with gentle souls. Treat them with respect and kindness.
Click on the top photo for an exclusive Ariana Rockefeller photo gallery shot on location at Skidmore College’s White Hollow Farm in Stillwater, NY.