The Genteel
November 24, 2017
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Moda Operandi founders Aslaug Magnusdottir and Lauren Santo Domingo. Source: savoirflair.com.
Source: thebusinessoffashion.com.

When Moda Operandi first came onto the online retail scene, I remember thinking, "They will never last." But fast forward a few resort, spring and pre-fall seasons later, and the ostentatious website that makes it possible for luxury devotees to purchase entire collections practically off the runway, is changing the way we shop for fashion: by eliminating the middleman - the fashion buyer. 

Last month, the "pre-commerce" company received a new round of funding from industry heavyweights, including LVMH, IMG and Conde Nast, totalling US$36m. When asked what it plans on doing with all that cash, Moda Operandi co-founder, Aslaug Magnusdottir, announced that the company will be introducing "in-season buying" - traditional e-commerce to you and I - in addition to pre-order collections. "We see this as a way of servicing our customers in a better way, whether for pre-order or if they have last-minute needs," says Magnusdottir. 

As Fashionsta.com suggests, Moda Operandi's decision to include in-season wares will be greatly facilitated by its existing, pre-order trunk show backbone, with the invaluable data accumulated by the being a strong indicator of what will sell later, in-season. 

Would the impulse-buys made by a few die-hard customers be the same pieces a buyer would painstakingly select?

The revolutionary e-commerce model proffered by Moda Operandi allows the customer to pre-order even the most unwearable pieces right off the runway. In doing so, the traditional role of the fashion buyer is abandoned, reinstating the customer as the chief indicator of what sells and what doesn't. Similarly, British fashion house, Burberry, makes it possible for customers to shop a runway collection while viewing a live-stream of its fashion show online. No runway review required, no shopping guide, no waiting to see if it looks good on Cara Delevingne - it's just us and the collection, alone at last.

To imagine an entire ready-to-wear collection in our carts, the very moment it is unveiled to the front row brigade, is indeed idealistic. However, just because a garment has its 20 seconds of fame on the runway, it doesn't mean it's worthy of accolade; it doesn't even mean it's of quality craftsmanship. How can customers judge a garment's merit by little more than a runway appearance on a gorgeous model, styled and photographed to perfection? 

Enter the fashion buyer. Normally, fashion buyers attend runway shows six months before the collections appear in stores, working with designers and retailers to decipher possible trends. A well-known truth of catwalk protocol is that most creations don't get produced; what we see in stores is usually an abridged, wearable version of the runway. A token example is the pair of Alexander McQueen ten-inch, foot-warping "Armadillo" shoes from S/S 2010: only 21 pairs were made and most of us just opted for the runway "inspired" reptile-patterned jersey silk dresses sold on Net-A-Porter or the mini-armadillo shoe sold at the McQueen exhibit, Savage Beauty, at the Met for $25.

The infamous Alexander
McQueen armadillo shoe.
Source: shoeblog.com.

In Toronto, Zane Aburaneh is one of most astute buyers out there. The first to bring designers like Rebecca Minkoff to his famous boutique, A2ZANE, he tells The Genteel that buyers are key to a successful retail industry. Buyers not only predict trends but, more importantly, they judge pieces based on quality, wearability and price point to fit the demands of their respective customers. "A buyer gets to try on samples, play with them. They are educated experts. Companies trust their buyers to pick items that won't disappoint the customer. And in turn, the customer will buy into a certain brand, like Opening Ceremony, because buyers have done such a good job at delivering quality pieces that fit an explicit aesthetic," muses Aburaneh. "Something a buyer picks in the pre-season stages may be completely unknown or disliked by the majority of people at that specific time," he continues, "But fast forward six months later and that same piece is what everyone desires."

Fashionista.com says, "MO [Moda Operandi] has incredible data about which pieces are the most popular - we're pretty sure Bergdorf et al, would love to get their hands on that data." But perhaps, on the contrary, said data may not be that useful for traditional e-commerce sites in the long run. After all, sites such as Net-a-Porter, SSENSE and Shopbop.com offer an assemblage of curated pieces, sourced from an array of brands and designers by their astute buyers. Would the impulse-buys made by a few die-hard customers be the same pieces a buyer would painstakingly select?

"We'll be making very focused buys," says Magnusdottir of Moda Operandi's in-season plans, while continuing to offer that hot-off-the-press privilege to pre-order customers. Moda Operandi evidently places importance on both sides of the equation, which attests to the changing landscape of retail shopping in our current digital environment. Fashion buyers will certainly face new challenges in the future if sites like Moda Operandi continue to have success and luxury fashion becomes increasingly accessible. 

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