Eva Chen: How I Shop

The 'Lucky' editor in chief discusses her high/low approach to dressing, the best way to shop a sample sale and how she plans her outfits for fashion week.
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The 'Lucky' editor in chief discusses her high/low approach to dressing, the best way to shop a sample sale and how she plans her outfits for fashion week.
Eva Chen at London Fashion Week in September. Photo: Peter Stigter

Eva Chen at London Fashion Week in September. Photo: Peter Stigter

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend, and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in the fashion industry with our new column, "How I Shop."

We could think of no better candidate to kickstart the column than Eva Chen, who has not only been the editor of *the* magazine about shopping for the past year and a half, but is also preparing to launch Lucky's e-commerce site early next year.

"I think I was always very inspired by my mom and her style. She was one of the first people I knew to know about Narciso Rodriguez. I go back to pictures of her from the '70s and the '60s and I’m constantly asking her, ‘Please tell me you saved this coat with the amazing fur collar? Please tell me you saved these amazing boots?' She didn’t save anything which is a huge disappointment and I think that kind of explains my hoarding tendencies. I’m keeping everything for my future daughter. I’m literally like, ‘This paperclip is so great she’s going to want this smiley face paperclip one day.’

I think my mom was a big shopping inspiration and also growing up in New York. I grew up downtown in Greenwich Village but then I went to school on the Upper East Side so I think that dichotomy between uptown and downtown has always informed my style as well. I grew up pretty close to St. Mark’s Place and Japantown and seeing the way people dressed liked that in the '80s, especially with mohawks and Doc Martens and real painted leather biker jackets, and then most of my friends lived on Park Avenue or the Upper East Side and seeing the way they dressed. A lot of my fashion sense has come from that mix of things and that's why usually the way I dress is a mix of high/low. Anytime I wear something more ladylike I always will wear it with a sneaker or something a little bit more downtown.

I guess I didn’t really start shopping on my own until college because I always went with my mom when I was growing up. I went to college in Baltimore. The shopping opportunities were few and far between in Baltimore. There was one mall called Towson Town Center and there was a shuttle bus that took you there and then you’d have to wait three hours for the next shuttle bus. And back then there was literally one. Growing up in New York City, I never had that mall shopping experience. I think most of my friends who didn’t grow up in New York hate malls because that’s all they had growing up. Whereas for me it’s like Mecca. Malls are like my favorite place in the world. I love food courts, I love going to Orange Julius.

My first internship at Harper’s Bazaar was another kind of moment. I wasn’t really expecting to be interning at Harper’s Bazaar; at that point I had been pre-med. I really agonized about what I would wear because when I was at Hopkins I would wear jeans and sweaters and I didn’t really know what to wear for a fashion magazine internship. I remember that summer before my internship I bought my first pair of I'd say designer-designer shoes -- it was a pair of Miu Miu kitten heels. I remember the salesperson who sold them to me, I remember the exact seat cushion I sat in [at Barneys].

One summer my dad loaned me a car, a really old big huge car. He said if you can have this car for the summer without messing it up, we'll lease you a car for your senior year. He took the train home and left me the car and literally I turned the corner and hit a pole. I was too ashamed to tell my dad, so I immediately got a job at J.Crew to pay for the paint scratch situation. And I just kept working there because I so enjoyed the employee discount. And I was always doing weird things on campus -- I did clerical work, assisted in the psychology department -- to make money that I would promptly spend on clothes. I probably spent more money on clothes than food. I think even now that is the case. I think for most women in New York, spending more money on fashion than on food will probably be a familiar situation.

The great thing about New York is that you can go to Chinatown or your deli or Whole Foods and you can get pretty yummy food for $7, or dinner for $10. And that savings from a nice dinner out you can apply towards an Alexander Wang bag, or an Alexander Wang t-shirt. It's fashion math. I could never imagine spending $500 on food. My best friend is a total foodie, she'll email me and say, 'We did the chef's tasting menu at Per Se,' and I'm like, that's a Proenza bag. I can't imagine doing that.

Eva Chen at Paris Fashion Week. Photo: Sandra Semburg/Getty Images

Eva Chen at Paris Fashion Week. Photo: Sandra Semburg/Getty Images

When I was younger, I went to sample sales. I think the best methodology is you try to be the first there, and pick up every single thing you might like, 'Supermarket Sweeps'-style, and then edit down. When I went to sample sales people would just stand next to me and wait for me to edit something out. I'd never leave with more than two to three pieces. You have to ask yourself, 'Will I wear this, or am I just in love with this because I think I am getting a good deal?

I don't go to sample sales anymore because I don't have time, but I do love the thrill of the chase and finding something that I really wanted but wasn’t able to buy at the time. For example when Murakami did those bags with Louis Vuitton I happened to be in L.A. and I waited in line to get it and I bought my sister-in-law a bag too. I always like when I have a story behind the things I get because I think I never want it to be too easy -- which is funny because as we keep building this e-commerce site the words I keep using are: 'We just want it to be easy for the shopper!’ But for me I think I like a little bit of a hunt and a thrill and finding these unexpected treasures and finding things that aren’t necessarily super expensive but that have a lot of style. And I think that Mansur Gavriel bags are the perfect example. It’s one of those word-of-mouth purchases. I first saw the bag on Laurel Pantin, our [former] style editor, and Kate Young, a stylist who works with us, on the same day, and I was like, I need to get one of those bags.

I think a lot of editors shop off the runway and they'll email for a personal order or they'll Moda Operandi it right away. I probably should do that because it would probably save a lot of time and a lot of money but I really enjoy the actual shopping experience. I really love going to brick and mortar stores, I really love browsing on e-commerce sites. I live on lower Fifth Avenue so basically every single weekend I'll either pop into one or more stores on lower 5th -- like Zara, which is best to go when they first open at 11 a.m. on Sunday, by the way. Mercer Street for me is just so dangerous, I get into so much trouble especially at Phillip Lim and Marc Jacobs, those are two of my favorite brands ever. I feel very fortunate to have editor discounts at a lot of those places.

In terms of full-price and sales items, it's 50/50 for me. I think the American customer -- and this is a problem I think about now that we're launching e-commerce -- has gotten conditioned to buy things on sale ever since 2008, 2009. There's always a sale going on, a loyalty program going on, a points program going on. At the same time, the cost of goods is so much higher. I don't want to sound like an old person, but I remember when designer shoes would cost $200 or $300, and now a pair of Alaia boots is $3,500 -- they're beautifully made, and the craftsmanship is perfect, but I think it's beyond comprehension for most women. So I do a bit of both. If I buy something full-price I am super duper crazy in love with it, or it's a one-of-a-kind piece, or I have vacation mentality and thinking YOLO, I'm in Sweden, I'm not going to find this anywhere else. I feel the worst thing in shopping is when you buy something full-price and you see it at the end of season at 80 percent off. I have the weirdest taste in stuff, and it always ends up being on sale and I always get depressed.

Nowadays you can track anything down. There is a Chanel bag, this kind of pinky purple, so classic, and I had never seen that color and I slept on it for one night and the that's the only thing I haven't been able to track down. Almost everything else I have -- the LV Sprouse, I couldn't find it in store, but I found it on Ebay. I don't really use Ebay anymore, it's too much work. And I'm a bit shallow in that packaging makes a big difference to me, and I like being able to return things that don't fit. I shop a decent amount on Asos, which is kind of stressful because there's almost too much stuff to look at. Yoox has great things, but you have to be able to commit six hours to it. I also love Whistles.

I don't plan my wardrobe. I see things all the time, and I buy them, period. So many people in fashion have a fashion uniform. My friend Jane Herman from Jean Stories, I've known her for 10 years, and she's literally worn the same thing for 10 years. I don't think I have a fashion uniform as much. I think it's easier to get dressed if you always wear loafers and you think, Vuitton showed loafers, I'll buy that loafer. I'm definitely one of those people who will get struck by whimsy and fall in love with something and get super obsessed with it. I wish I were more strategic about it; it would probably save me money.

I don't really map out my outfits either. For fashion week you have to because you're packing. I put each outfit on a hanger, and then put them in garment bags by city usually, and then as soon as I get to the city I take out the relevant garment bag, hang it and as I wear the clothes I take them off the hanger and roll them up into little clothing burritos and put them into bags to bring home. If I can borrow from a designer, I get it sent back to them. It has to be that organized, because one month on the road, you have to try not to wear the same thing every day.

I don't set budgets. This is a problem in my life where I have a really hard time sticking to a budget. You can ask my office manager, you can ask my husband, you can ask my American Express card. But I will say I'm religious about a 401k and a saving account and all of those things. I think in my 30s I've gotten a lot more cognizant of my finances, planning for my [new] apartment and for a child.

I invest the most in bags and shoes. When people tell me my feet are going to swell and stay one size bigger, I get really panicked about that, because if that ends up happening I am so, so not going to be in a good situation. All the shoes I've spent the last 10 years cataloguing, owning, hoarding. Every night I elevate my feet for like an hour being like please don't get bloated, please don't get larger. I will invest in bags. I have a Chanel bag that I stole from my mom in college, because luxury bags can really become heirloom pieces. I still have the Dior Saddle Bag from like 2004 maybe, I still have a Dior J'Adore t-shrit my teenager daughter will wear at some point ironically. All my Proenza PS1 bags, I love those bags, even though some of them are three or four years old, I still use them on the weekends.

I edit my closet all of the time, and I really try not to take things I won't wear. It sounds incredibly spoiled, but sometimes a designer or brand will say they want to send me something, and I write back and say I really appreciate it but I try not to take things I won't wear, because then it's a waste for the brand. A lot of denim passes through my office and I'm not a huge denim person and there's a lot of girls here who are basically the same size as me, so I just try to give a lot of stuff away.

The last thing I bought was hangers for my baby's closet. 100 of them, to be precise. On my wish list is a new black tote bag, but I haven't found the perfect one yet."

This interview has been edited and condensed.