Montclair is a real north Jersey gem. Whether seeing your favorite band at the Wellmont, having dinner at one of the many wonderful restaurants (I'm drooling just thinking about you, Costanera), or having a 90s night out, you cannot be bored in this town. There is also a huge sense of community which helped make July's Local Love a reality: in the heart of downtown Montclair is Aris Couture Boutique. Outside, big, welcoming lights are strung across the sidewalk where a sign reads, "A couture shopping experience without the couture price tag." I walk in, past beautiful stained glass, up a few wooden stairs lit by candles in hurricane jars and surrounded by antique, textured walls, and into Aris Couture to meet the lovely owner behind this equally as lovely boutique. Don't let the word "couture" fool you - the pieces inside are beautiful AND moderately priced.
"It's sort of everybody's best kept secret," Jessica told me, as we discussed the aura of her store. "My customers feel like they're getting away with something. Luxury without the guilt." She could not be more spot on as I explored the store to find gorgeous items at truly unbelievable price points. The one-room boutique is spacious and carefully curated with on-trend tops, easy basics like bodysuits and jeans (she consistently keeps four different styles in the store), and beautiful, flowy dresses. The soft fabrics and colorful prints give it an overall slightly bohemian yet high-end feel and it was clear that Jessica hand-picked each piece as she knowledgeably explained all the details - the fit, the cut, sizing, the material, what to wear under it, what to wear with it... her stylist background shines through brightly to her customers. Shopping at Aris Couture seemed like the equivalent of shopping in your best friend's closet. "Like when you need something new but you don't want to go to Bloomingdales and spend $400 on a dress," was how Jess described it (No shade to Bloomies). "I'm going to be your best friend and tell you what looks good. It's a welcoming environment."
Welcoming it is. We got to sit down for a little while - during her Friday night sip-and-shop event with Laura Zupa D'Avella of the Boisset Collection - to talk about her vision for Aris and the entire boutique experience over a chilled, summery drink.
When did you open your boutique? What prompted the idea to start Aris Couture?
I opened April 15, 2016. I've had a few lifetimes in my short life. I started off as an actress... well, I hate the word actress, an actor. I went to NYU Tisch, and by the time I graduated I hated it. I was done with it. It was really unfortunate. I didn't want to be in front of the camera anymore, so I took an internship in production to be behind the camera. I was very stylish, so if they didn't have a stylist on set, I started as a stylist there as well as still being a production coordinator. They gave me more opportunities and I started styling celebrities. It was glamorous but schmoozy. When I left that, I was working for Avon, got laid off, and said to myself, 'I don't want to go back to corporate'. What can I do? What am I good at? I've always been good at putting together outfits and making it look like I spent a million dollars on it.
I’m from Montclair and I have a good backing here, I have my roots here, and I know the market. It’s perfect for what I’m good at - and that’s why I opened. It's always been sort of a dream of mine. I did it with whatever I had in my savings account. I wasn't going to wait for the perfect time or the perfect amount of money, it was either now or never. You have to turn the fright into excitement.
Actually, three days after I signed my lease, I shattered my foot completely. I couldn't do anything. I was supposed to be open for an event and couldn't have people expecting to be here, and not be open. So I put local ads out asking for help. Complete strangers helped and not one person took money from me. Not one. Everyone, every age, putting labels on, tags, steaming... I think it was more for the greater good, and that's how Montclair is. It really was incredible. I seriously think that experience has completely shaped me as a business owner.
Is there a meaning behind the name of your boutique?
My last name is long, and I'm about to change it, but Aris is part of my last name. It's the part of my last name I always related to and thought was beautiful. The reason I named it Aris was also like the word heiress, like an heiress to a throne - like in my logo there’s a crown, crowns there, crowns in the fitting room. So it's my name and also a play on words.
What is the price range of the clothing/accessories you carry?
My whole thing is affordable luxury. You’ll never see a price tag over $99, and I’ve got to tell you, I really have never had anything in this store over $99. The most expensive thing in the boutique right now is $89, that amazing green dress. It’s safe to shop here because you always know what to expect.
How would you describe the style of clothes/accessories you offer?
As far as my clothing goes, it’s all about quality. I don't consider myself a buyer, I consider myself a hunter. I hunt. It’s really hard to find quality pieces that fit well, that can be worn with time, and still keep it under $99. I have three different demographics in my family - my mother, myself, and my younger sister in high school - and that’s who I shop for. As long as there is something in here for each of us, I’m good to go.
How would you describe the customer experience at Aris Couture?
My name is 'Aris Couture' which is the couture shopping experience without the couture pricetag. If you want to be on your own, I can read that and I will give you space. If you want recommendations, I’m happy to help. Because I used to be a stylist it’s very easy for me to tell you if something does or doesn't look good. I’m honest to a fault. I won't lie to you. As a woman, I could never do that to another woman.
Aside from shopping, can customers look forward to any events at Aris?
There are so many Montclair events I participate in: The Glenridge Avenue Night market happens three Fridays in June, Small Business Saturday is in November. We have a Montclair-wide sidewalk sale which actually just passed. A lot of events are through the town - it's the best because everyone participates, it's so much fun, it's just great. One of the biggest nights is Montclair's Fashion Night Out, always in September. Stores put outfits together for models, and whatever is being modeled is already in the store. It's a fashion show with a red carpet and all. It's a really fun night. The Montclair Center will let you know about all the shopping events happening in town. I also do a lot of sip-and-shops or a mimosa Saturday with Laura (ambassador for Boisset). If you have ten girlfriends and want a private night of shopping, I can set that all up and tailor some items especially for you. I'll close the boutique down and everyone can shop.
Can you shop online?
Yes! My website is www.ariscoutureboutique.com. I do free shipping over $75, otherwise shipping is $7.99, but no matter which, it ships within 2 business days. If there is a question about sizing, I model everything, so if you want to know an honest opinion and not order three sizes, I can totally give you measurements and explain how things fit. I've also put on all the sizes to show people how all the different sizes look on me so you can see how one part cuts or doesn't, or if length changes or not.
Aris Couture Boutique is located on Glenridge Avenue in Montclair, NJ. Keep an eye out for an amazing giveaway coming soon, that's easy to enter.
For now, see and shop some of my favorite Aris Couture pieces below to finish summer or transition into fall:
Boho Kercheif Dress, $59 (available in store and online)
Peek-a-Boo White Tiered Dress, $68 (available in store and online)
Pinstripe Poplin Off-the-Shoulder Top, $45 (available in store and online)
Ivory Patterned Off-the-Shoulder Top, $32 (available in store or online)
Fall Floral Trapeze Dress, $67 (available in store or online)