Letters from Dara

The story behind our name

Toomeys on Block Island

Ayla opened its virtual doors on Valentine’s Day 2011 with a name that most people aren’t quite sure how to pronounce, sort of like my own. 

Ayla, pronounced ā-lah, is an old Irish name that means “bearer of light.” The reason why I chose an Irish name for our business is one of my own models of brighter beauty: my grandmother, Margaret, shown in the photograph above. She’s the fourth from the right in the line of numerous siblings assembled on the beach — by the way, there were seven others — and she was a treasure.

Margaret lived in her own home, the house my father grew up in, until she died at the age of 99. At less than five feet tall, she was an optimistic, energetic force of nature: her wit, intelligence, big heart, and ageless spirit combined to create one of the truest forms of beauty I have ever known. She was the life of every party, the heart and soul of our extended family.

While she was in enviable health into her later years, she struggled a bit (privately, as the Irish are wont to do) towards the end. When I could, I took the train from New York to her small town in Massachusetts to pay her a visit. There was something about visits from friends and family that seemed to sustain her; human connection is powerful, and I felt that viscerally each time I saw her.

My last visit to her house is one that is permanently etched in my mind. She had mentioned a few times that Arpège became “her scent” when a particularly fashionable suitor gave it to her in the 1920s, so I tracked down a bottle and brought it with me. My memory of the delight with which she opened the beautiful box, lifted the black bottle, cradled it in her fragile hands, uncapped it, and sniffed it is one that still makes my eyes tear up. I could see her transporting herself to that moment when the young man presented her — a vibrant beauty — with his gift many years ago. It made me appreciate the unique power that excellent cosmetics possess: they can be like talismans that remind us of who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be.

Because of Margaret, and because of that particular visit, at Ayla we believe in two important things: excellent, memorable products and real human connection. To us, these are among the best ways to celebrate true beauty — the light that we all possess. The reason why my grandmother will always hold such a special place in my heart is that she let her unique beauty shine and inspire others. It is my sincere hope that we will always encourage you to do the same.

Happy birthday to Ayla, and Happy Valentine’s week to you. Thank you all for coming on this journey with us.

- Dara


Grandma & Grandpa

PS Here's my grandmother with my grandfather. (He wasn't the suitor who gave her Arpège, but he still won her heart.)

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