Aliloo is growing, not closing, thanks to Arash Aliloo and his passion for fine art in the form of handcrafted rugs. A year or so ago, his father, Paul Aliloo, decided to retire from the business that he started in 1984. Fate, legacy and the allure of beautiful rugs encompassing ancient history and culture played key roles in modifying Arash’s career path.
“It was an ongoing process that started in the winter of the past year. I was working at Sonabank and coming by to help my Dad,” Arash recalled. “He was planning the sale and needed all the hands he could get, and it re-awoke this love I have for the rugs. I grew up with them. The store was founded before I was born. It’s always been a presence in my life.”
Interested in Foreign Policy, Arash graduated from James Madison University with a degree in International Relations and is working for his Master’s. The hands-on contact with the rugs, however, wielded a bit of magic.
“I looked at my dad and his plans to retire and said to myself that I couldn’t let something he built this long just end. He was going to close the business and walk away, work on his tan and learn to golf,” said Arash. “You can’t own or sell a Persian rug without having an appreciation for history. Even though 30 years is a drop in the bucket for rugs, to work that long in this business and just let it go… I couldn’t let him do it. I think my Dad was pleased and surprised.”
“These handcrafted rugs are art, a representation of their history and culture,” said Arash. “You look at the rug-weaving countries — Iran (formerly Persia), Turkey, parts of China and Russia — the rug represents its time period. Tabriz is a very famous city in Iran. If I open up four Tabriz rugs, each from a different generation, they would look completely different. Some rugs are like coats of arms where you can trace the pattern through a region or to a specific tribe that wove the rugs. It looks like a pretty design, but there’s much more to the rugs than that.”
Nomadic people wove smaller rugs for portability. Larger versions are called urban or city rugs. At Aliloo, you can see and touch the differences while listening to a rug’s story.
“When you talk about rugs, especially antiques, condition is very important,” Arash said. “If it’s a city rug, you’re looking at the intricacy of the design and knots per square inch. Condition, age, and color are important because that’s where rugs get their value.”
Not all rugs are wool or silk. “Before, you had horsehair and camel hair — these older rugs are amazing,” Arash said. “You can’t look at a rug like this without appreciating the effort. Each is a work of art. My Dad loved having people in. They sat with cups of tea and Persian treats while he unrolled rugs. The one thing he couldn’t stand was someone not understanding what they were looking at. The best customers, the ones he appreciated the most, were the ones who said, ‘This is beautiful, it just isn’t what I want.’ ”
Aliloo offers a spectacular inventory from precious antiques to rugs that are 50, 40, 20 years old. Sizes range from 1 x 2 feet to runners and standard sizes to 12 x 20 and larger. Attractive pillows and cushions were crafted from older rugs too damaged for floor use. Aliloo has saddle blankets and wall hangings. Wherever you place the rug, on the floor or as wall décor, it becomes a focal point of that room.
“Our newer rugs are still 100% handmade with natural dyes and materials,” Arash said. “Some come from India and Pakistan, and a lot are made in the Persian style. This makes the rugs more accessible. Not everyone can afford to buy a 180-year-old rug.”
You can’t find rugs like these, old or new, at a big box store. The colors reflect the ancient art of making dyes from various fruits, roots, spices, nuts, grains, vegetables and shellfish. They are painstakingly woven by hand. Many have survived war and invasion. They are, literally, works of art you can walk on.
Rug Care 101
Aliloo moved a few doors down to the 100-year-old building that housed Middleburg Pharmacy. This larger space is essential for display and services.
“We specialize in cleaning and repair and can handle any maintenance needed for rug ownership,” said Arash. “We keep up with new techniques and products. Just recently, a kind of ‘scotch-guard’ helps to protect these rugs from everyday stains. As much as people love it, we love it too. You wouldn’t believe some of the stains and damage I’ve seen.”
Arash recommends bringing your rug for cleaning every six months or once a year, depending on use. “You’d be amazed how much they brighten,” he said. “We don’t beat them like you see in old photos, but we use industrial quality vacuums and we shake the rug 10, 15 times to get every speck of dust out. Then we clean them. It’s like looking at a brand new rug – the colors just pop.”
Those old natural dyes are that good; so are the materials. One Aliloo motto: You can never tell a good repair, but you can always tell a bad one. Paul’s good friend, Amir Reza, who has led the repair team for many years, will continue to work in partnership with Arash.
“Our master craftsmen take care of repairs and make it look as if there was never a hole cut for a lamp cord or whatever happened,” said Arash. “We have a person specifically for the fringe, another for the binding, and someone for the warp and the weft. You have to be that specialized to repair to the level that’s going to satisfy us and the customers, who are very important to us.”
The New Aliloo
Paul recalled when he decided to retire and close the shop: “People came in, customers and friends from all over, local and from Florida and Chicago, saying why are you going? Who’s going to do this? The services I provided, the team I have for repairing and cleaning rugs… I never thought of this when I decided to retire. But my son, I have photos of him when he was little, climbing on the rugs, playing on them — he helped me through the years. Whenever I had to travel, he came in and took care of the shop. He knew the concept, the knowledge of the rugs. One day, my son said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to let this legacy go away.’ ”
A new era begins on Saturday, May 14, when the Aliloos welcome old and new customers to celebrate the all-day grand re-opening of the Aliloo & Son Rug Gallery. This leads to more congratulations: Arash and Linda celebrated their nuptials in April, and he spoke candidly about looking forward to having children of their own, a new generation who will play on the rugs.
“My father is the only person I’ve ever known who walked into the Sistine Chapel and spent more time looking at the floor than the ceiling,” said Arash, a natural storyteller. “I have photos of him face down, looking at every rug. That‘s passion!”
Like father, like son in many ways. Listening to Arash speak about a rug while he unrolls it is like a private museum tour with a superb guide. He’s working on his certification as an appraiser and, although he admits candidly “I’m not my father yet,” he has the passion and eloquence. After all, Arash Aliloo learned from one of the best.