EXCLUSIVE: It’s Always a Family Affair With Ariella Starkman
A conversation with the executive producer on championing community, producing Nguyen Inc’s first runway show and more.
For over eight years, NYC Chinatown-based Ariella Starkman has been an executive producer and creative strategist lending her talents to clients such as Barragán, Miaou, Nike, Supreme, TELFAR, Prada and Coach. However, it’s not her laundry list of impressive clientele that stands out, but Starkman’s community oriented way of running her business, driven by a goal of championing her friends and community along the way.
Starkman’s circle of friends is made up of entrepreneurs, stylists, art directors, designers and supermodels, so it’s no surprise that they also double as colleagues. This past New York Fashion Week was no different, with Starkman producing Nguyen Inc’s first runway show on the streets of SoHo. Nguyen Inc is a brand founded by Kim Nguyen, a New York-based Vietnamese designer and one of Starkman’s best friends.
From the second I arrived at Gold Bar, which was the local venue where first looks, hair and makeup took place for the show, I could sense a difference in the environment. The ease of the preparations felt like the cast and crew were simply getting ready for a big night out. The smiles, the lightness and the friendship was all very evident in the room.
Starkman’s team consists mainly of women, including Shay Johnson the co-founder of DOS SWIM and Halle Lagatta, founder of Oh Mgmt and Starkman’s right hand producer. The stylist on site was none other than Becky Akinyode and opening the show was top model Paloma Elsesser, followed by writer and creative consultant, Lynette Nylander. PR was led by Jillian Lockwood, SVP at DLX, which explains the impressive, style driven turnout. These women, who are not only giants in their spheres but long time friends, have made it their business that whenever one of them is winning, they are either behind the scenes making it happen, or nearby hyping them up.
When asking Starkman about the experience of working with her best friends on these projects, she described it as a labor of love. “We have such complementing skills and so much love and trust for each other that it only generates more love and trust. It doesn’t mean that it’s not stressful at times, but the end goal is always championing one another and when that’s the goal, even when things don’t go as planned, our foundation is solid.”
As I stood on Centre Street and watched Elsesser do her final walk with her hands on her chest and tears in her eyes, I turned to the crowd and witnessed equal emotion, crying and jumping for joy. Out of the windows on the surrounding buildings, you could see people smiling and hear them yelling, too. From a distance, I saw Starkman and her team just as emotional, while making Nguyen’s dream of showcasing her first collection on the streets of New York, surrounded by people who love her, come true. It was clear that there’s nothing sweeter than doing what you love while championing your friends and community.
Keep reading for a further look into the producer’s career, ambitions and how she keeps community at the heart of her creative pursuits.
When did you know you wanted to be a producer?
I organized a car wash for MADD when I was 11 years old. There was a DJ, speakers, decor and signage around the neighborhood. For some reason, I’ve always liked to be the one to “make things happen.” I didn’t know what a producer was or that I was one until I was already doing it. I didn’t grow up seeing examples of women in charge or being the ones to bring things to life and I’m so grateful that I get to be that example for other women now.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of building your company?
Challenging would be teaching myself how to be a real boss and deal with things that I don’t love to do, like categorizing expenses and understanding taxes. Every action has a reaction, so I have to try not to be too emotional in my response to something that is stressful or challenging and set a good example for the team. That’s the rewarding part – collaborating with such intelligent, cool, capable people and getting amazing feedback from clients. I get to work with people I love and learn from – what a cool thing!
What does a day in your life look like?
I wake up around 8-9 a.m. and do a quick meditation, journal or prayer if I remember, which I usually don’t. I rush out of the door after having a gear crisis (a.k.a meltdown about what to wear) and try to go for a little mental health lap around the block. From there, I walk to the office which is around the corner from my apartment and jump into emails, calls or budgets for whatever we’re working on. If the project calls for it, we’ll do a site visit with a fabricator or jump into a location scout. I’ll grab lunch in the area or we’ll order directly to the office. My work day ends around 7-9 p.m. [then] I grab dinner with friends or get a massage at an amazing place on Sullivan. IYKYK.
What are some local shops that are part of your everyday life as a producer?
So many to name! It depends on the project and the needs, but I love Vida Signs for large scale signage, Bello Projects for printed material, K&M for camera / lighting EQ and Vela for everything else. Producing simply isn’t possible without amazing vendor relationships.
What’s next for you?
Unfortunately, I have to move. Which is a job in itself in NYC. After that, I’m looking forward to being intentional about the projects we take on. It’s an immense privilege to love what you do every single day and I’m grateful that there are always moments during the week that remind me of why I do what I do.