Moda Operandi's Aslaug Magnusdottir Talks Isabel Marant, Layaway for the Elite, and Why LSD Was Her Top Choice for a Partner

Innovations in retail are few and far between. In 2007, I remember hearing about Gilt Groupe and thinking, "this is going to change the way people shop." Over the last four years, the flash sales site has certainly altered our idea of a discount. But I'd argue that Moda Operandi--a new platform that allows users to buy pieces right off the runway--is equally as innovative, if not more so.
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Innovations in retail are few and far between. In 2007, I remember hearing about Gilt Groupe and thinking, "this is going to change the way people shop." Over the last four years, the flash sales site has certainly altered our idea of a discount. But I'd argue that Moda Operandi--a new platform that allows users to buy pieces right off the runway--is equally as innovative, if not more so.
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Innovations in retail are few and far between. In 2007, I remember hearing about Gilt Groupe and thinking, "this is going to change the way people shop." Over the last four years, the flash sales site has certainly altered our idea of a discount.

But I'd argue that Moda Operandi--a new platform that allows users to buy pieces right off the runway--is equally as innovative, if not more so.

The idea: Now that we can get everything on sale, the only benefit of paying full price is to have it first. Moda Operandi founders Aslaug Magnusdottir and Lauren Santo Domingo want you to be able to buy the pieces that never make it into retailers. And they want you to be able to place an order long before the buyers even set foot in the showroom for a re-see.

For women like me who don't have a massive wardrobe of designer clothes but tend to dabble, Moda Operandi is appealing because, well, it's a lot like layaway. My spending limit on a dress might be $500, but because Moda Operandi requires that you put down half the cost now, and half the cost three or four months later when the garment has been produced and shipped to you, I can purchase a $1,000 frock without the initial sticker shock. Was this Magnusdottir's intention? Probably not, but it sure does broaden the audience.

I recently chatted with Magnusdottir about her motivation for launching the site, what she liked this Fashion Month, and why she asked Vogue contributing editor Lauren Santo Domingo to join her on this adventure.

Fashionista: You've done a lot of different things in fashion, working with everyone from Waris Ahluwalia to Marvin Traub. How did you decide to launch Moda Operandi? Aslaug Magnusdottir: I've been working in fashion now for many years as a consultant, investor, and operator. Most recently at Gilt Groupe, heading up merchandising for Gilt Noir, the site's private members club. Over the last couple of years I kept hearing from designers that beautiful pieces from their collections--often their favorite pieces--never made it to the stores. Because of the economic downturn, stores have become more and more risk adverse, so many of those most special pieces didn’t make it to the sales floor. At the same time, I was hearing from friends that they often really wanted a piece that went down the runway, and finding out that it wouldn't ever be available to purchase. I wanted to connect the designer and the consumer.

So how did you link up with Lauren Santo Domingo? We worked together in the past. When I was working with Marvin Traub we invested in early stage fashion brands [like Rachel Roy and Matthew Williamson], and I brought Lauren in to advise on some of those brands from a styling and marketing perspective. When I first came up with the concept of Moda Operandi I knew that she would be the perfect person to work on this with me. We have such complimentary skill sets. I first talked to her first about this in September 2009 and she immediately loved the concept, so we started working on it.

Obviously the prices on the site make it a bit niche, so where would you like to be in terms of membership by 2012? You're not aiming for Gilt Groupe numbers, are you? We definitely don’t expect to have as many members as Gilt Groupe. Since we're at high end of the market, it isn’t necessarily as broad a group that will be buying. We'd like to have 100,000 members by the end of the year.

What's the process for working with a designer? We enter into agreements with each of the designers that we work with before anything is produced. We take orders from our customers, and the designers produce for us what’s been ordered. We're not taking inventory in advance. The designer sends us our orders and we repackage and send those to the customer. We are like a retailer, but instead the designers don't have to deal with vending. What they do get is immediate feedback on what the customers really want to wear.

And the designers get paid on time! Moving away from operations and on to trends, what concepts/collections have you been really excited about this season? There haven't been many huge surprises in [terms of trends]--there's been a lot of color. When it comes to more emerging designers, our users are really excited Erdem. There's been an amazing reaction. It's great to feature not only the more established designers but designers who maybe don't have as much of a reach yet, particularly in the US.

The thing I love about the site is that for those of us with a limited budget, the two payments--one initially, one a few months later after it's produced--makes it easier to buy a pricier piece. Don't know if you thought of that initially, but it's pretty brilliant. I’ve heard that from a couple of people--they've bought more expensive pieces because of it.

Anyone else you're really excited about selling? I'm excited that we're featuring labels that are sometimes hard to find. Like today, we have Isabel Marant, which isn't always easy to get a hold of. We're also featuring Giambattista Valli, and right now there's an Eddie Borgo trunk show. I'm also very excited that we're doing Nicholas Kirkwood shoes--it's going to be his runway shows from various shows [including Erdem, Pollini, Rodarte].

How long ago did you begin organizing these sales? A while ago, or have some been last minute? We began reaching out to brands last summer. In June 2010, we started talking to the American brands. We talked to European brands later. We hired fashion director Yasmin Sewell last fall, and we traveled to Paris and Milan in November and December. There have been a couple late additions, but not too many.

What will happen when there isn't an international fashion week currently on? We’ll definitely be active all year around. We'll be featuring fall, spring, pre-fall, resort, as well as accessories and also special pieces and capsule collections created just for Moda Operandi.

Request to join Moda Operandi here.