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Aida Aras, a tailor at Nan Duskin and Toby Lerner boutiques, who later began her own business, dies at 86

Turkish-born Aida Aras, 86, loved the United States so much, her family called her "The Patriot." She was a seamstress for upscale boutiques and had her own tailor shop.

Aida Aras, an immigrant from Turkey, worked as a seamstress for boutiques such as Nan Duskin, Toby Lerner and Lord & Taylor.  After retiring, her clients asked her to continue working as a tailor, and brought dresses and prom gowns to her home in Wayne. She died Monday, Sept. 6, at age 86.
Aida Aras, an immigrant from Turkey, worked as a seamstress for boutiques such as Nan Duskin, Toby Lerner and Lord & Taylor. After retiring, her clients asked her to continue working as a tailor, and brought dresses and prom gowns to her home in Wayne. She died Monday, Sept. 6, at age 86.Read moreCourtesy of the Aras family

Aida Aras, 86, of Wayne, a seamstress who made alterations for upscale boutiques in Center City and the Main Line, and who also had her own tailoring business at home until last year, died in her sleep at her apartment on Sept. 6.

She was a “force of nature” who had a kindness that could charm anyone she met, Arlene Aras, her daughter, said.

And she charmed everyone, from the high-end clients who came to her home with prom dresses to be altered at 9 or 10 o’clock at night to the maintenance workers in her building.

“She was very full of life and always had good intentions and was very involved with her community,” her daughter said. “She knew everyone and everyone knew her.”

She lived independently and made gowns for proms and weddings until the pandemic forced her to close her business last year, at age 85.

An immigrant from Turkey, with an Armenian Christian background, Mrs. Aras came to the United States in 1976 when she was in her early 40s. She was a mother of two teenaged children. Her husband joined the family later.

“She saw the United States as a place where people had this freedom and opportunity,” said Jon-Jorge Aras, her grandson. “She had a feeling in her heart of hearts that her children would have more success here.”

When Mrs. Aras and her children settled in Drexel Hill, her husband stayed in Turkey for a time to continue his business.

She was also very opinionated and loved watching news programs on television.

“She was an assertive person,” said Jon-Jorge. “She was the type of person who was not going to hold back what she was feeling.”

Yet, she always had a warm, welcoming smile and a bubbly personality.

“She used her assertiveness and kindness to get her foot in the door” of those toney boutiques such as Nan Duskin and Toby Lerner, he said.

The fashion website the Fox Historic Costume Collection described the now-closed Nan Duskin as “an internationally known boutique that dressed Philadelphia’s high society.”

For 30 years, she worked in boutiques in Center City, Strafford and Haverford, and at the Lord & Taylor in Bala Cynwyd. She later worked at home for the clients she met at those boutiques.

At first, Mrs. Aras found work as a tailor in a dry cleaners. But customers told her she should be working for nice boutiques because of her skills.

So, armed with both the ability to speak French, in addition to three other languages, and a keen sense of fashion, Mrs. Aras dressed up and visited the boutiques her clients told her about to offer her tailoring services.

“Istanbul was once very much more cosmopolitan,” Arlene said. “Because my father was a record producer, they were always invited to musicals or opera events when the artists and big composers from Europe came to Turkey. They also were invited to foreign consulates for dinners.”

“My mother could take a simple black dress and, in her younger years, she looked like Audrey Hepburn.”

Arlene said the family received numerous calls and texts from her former dress customers, as well as from a maintenance worker at her apartment.

“He said, ‘Your mom was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She was always so appreciative. On a hot day, she always offered us a cold drink.’”

Aida Aras was born in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 7, 1934, to Kevork and Satenik Serif. She was the older of two children. Her father owned a famous delicatessen.

She attended school in Istanbul, where she studied French in addition to already being fluent in Armenian and Turkish languages.

In 1957, she married music producer Onnik Aras. In 1974, when her children were teens, she traveled to the United States with friends and fell in love with the country, her grandson said.

After moving to the U.S., she was so happy to become an American citizen that family members nicknamed her “The Patriot.”

“She loved her country, her flag and the culture,” Arlene said. “She always said, ‘Where else in the world can you be yourself? You don’t have to hide your religion. You don’t have to hide your last name. You don’t have to hide anything.”

However, she maintained a strong love for Turkey, also.

“She kept going back to visit. She was always happy to go there and happy to come back home,” Arlene said. Her husband died in 2003, after a marriage of 46 years.

When she retired from her boutique job, Mrs. Aras’ customers persuaded her to sew and make alterations from her home.

She converted a room into a full boutique, where she greeted customers with tea, fresh baked goods and Dove milk chocolates.

She also enjoyed baking and making Armenian food for her children and grandchildren, Jon-Jorge said. The night before she died, she baked a fruit cake for her daughter.

She loved to travel and was a member of St. Sahag & St. Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church in Wynnewood.

In addition to her daughter and grandson, Mrs. Aras is survived by her son, Aret Aras, her brother, three other grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

A service commemorating her life was held Sept. 10.