The co-founder of luxury etailer Moda Operandi tells Stephen Spear why she’s proud to be called fashion’s fairy godmother
So what is Moda Operandi?
The idea sprang from a series of chats I’d had with designers, first in London with [now-defunct investment firm] Baugur and later with [former Bloomingdale’s chief executive] Marvin Traub at TSM Capital and also at [members-only luxury discounter] Gilt Groupe. I kept hearing the same complaints. The designers said the pieces they felt most strongly about and even the ones the press responded to just never made it onto shopfloors. Buyers were naturally risk averse and made the wrong decisions about what to buy. Moda Operandi changes that.
We remove that disconnect between designer and shopper by making entire collections available online for a fixed period, but allowing customers anywhere in the world to order whatever pieces they want.
Does that change which pieces make it to production?
Oh yes. At one Alexander Wang trunk show there was a pair of glitter pants. None of the buyers had picked up on them, but when we made them available, people loved them. They became best-sellers.
How do you pick the designers?
We originally selected the ones we wanted and my partner (ex-Vogue contributing editor and now Moda Operandi creative director) Lauren Santo Domingo was instrumental in that. The focus is on designer brands that enjoy the hype and garner interest around the runways.
We started with 15 and now have 100 designers on the site. We’re looking at having 100,000 members by year end.
You’re an expert on the UK fashion market. How has it changed?
In terms of the high street, there was a period defined by a lot of consolidation, but that has broken up again to some extent now. What the UK is left with is more focus on operational efficiency, and a level of competition that has intensified tremendously. The value players, for example, are selling great fashion at a low price. The level of fashionability has intensified hugely. The UK customer will no longer accept anything that is not highly fashionable.
Where would you invest in the UK now?
On the high street, I’d look for the best operators, the company that can take feedback, use it, and react quickly. The other thing I’d look at would be how progressive their online strategies are. It’s vital to be at the forefront online.
Of course, they have to have distinctive product. In terms of price level, the value end is more challenging, but there are good businesses in each segment.
Vogue called you fashion’s fairy godmother. How does that feel?
I’m passionate about emerging designers. From that perspective, I love the idea of being someone not just building my own business, but doing some good for young designers, too. I graduated in law in Iceland but when I became chairman of the Icelandic ballet I learned I love to work with creative talent. When I moved to London I got the chance to work in fashion and knew this was it for me.
Blocks or prints?
Blocks are very in right now, but personally, it’s flower prints for me [Matthew Williamson pictured].
What’s your style?
Boho glam. I wear dresses, and love elaborate and statement pieces.
What is your fashion must have?
Always the latest Nicholas Kirkwood shoes, whatever they are.
Which is your favourite city and why?
Reykjavík. It’s where I grew up and have family and friends. Plus it’s also fun and cosmopolitan and you can go from city to country in 15 minutes.