Caroline Issa: How I Shop

The editor and street style star shops straight from the runway — when she's not designing her own clothes, of course.
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The editor and street style star shops straight from the runway — when she's not designing her own clothes, of course.
Caroline Issa, front row at the Issa fall 2015 show during London Fashion Week. Photo: Samir Hussein/WireImage

Caroline Issa, front row at the Issa fall 2015 show during London Fashion Week. Photo: Samir Hussein/WireImage

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 column, "How I Shop."

If you have browsed through a street style gallery from any of the major fashion weeks, you will have inevitably seen a photo of Caroline Issa in one of her seemingly infinite Perfect Outfits. She never fails to show up to events wearing something that's worthy of being photographed, but that also feels true to her personal style, which is at once classic and current. 

This makes sense given the way she shops — preferring to "build" her wardrobe rather than buy pieces that she only wears for one season, while still injecting some newness periodically.

Issa is also a smart, busy woman with a day job. Several of them, in fact, including running London-based Tank magazine and the publishing house and creative agency attached to it, plus an ongoing design collaboration with Nordstrom, the latest iteration of which hit stores and online this Monday. Read on to find out how she makes those gigs work to her advantage while building her wardrobe, the advice Iris Apfel gave her for battling shopping FOMO, and more.

Caroline Issa in a look from her fall 2015 Nordstrom collection. Photo: Nordstrom

Caroline Issa in a look from her fall 2015 Nordstrom collection. Photo: Nordstrom

"I tend to buy before every season, then wear it throughout the season. I'm lucky enough to be able to sometimes order stuff from showrooms ahead of time, but then I completely forget about what I ordered so it's a fun surprise. After the Sacai show, I ordered four coats.

I’m definitely not an impulse shopper. I love going to stores and boutiques. I tend to do a lot of research in stores, then I’ll buy it online. I'll try it on in store, mull it over and maybe a week later I’ll bite the bullet. 

I think the minute you put [an item] on and you start matching it to other stuff in your wardrobe, like, 'Oh I could wear it with the suit that I got a year ago...' I think that's when you know the perfect thing to invest in. I believe in building your wardrobe and not just buying for new seasons. I still wear stuff that I bought 15 years ago when I started at Tank and I love going back to all the old classics but obviously bringing in some newness every season.

I don’t need more stuff. I’m lucky I get to see all the shows and I tend to actually do a lot of shopping when I’m at the shows. Not only am I looking at it from an editorial perspective, like that's going to look great in a shoot and I want to make sure that we get that look into Tank, but I'm definitely going, 'Ooooh that is a new double-breasted cut jacket that I really need to have in my collection,' or, 'That's an amazing suit' or 'That's a great dress that I know is incredibly versatile.' So I tend to get excited by pieces and also a feeling. I think after the Altuzarra show you come out and you're like, 'Oh I really need a sexy little number,' or after Dior you just kind of want all those beautiful knits and the bodysuits.

The other new way I find myself shopping is through Instagram. It's how I discover new brands, and I kind of get down this rabbit hole. I recently discovered this fantastic Turkish designer, Gül Hürgel, who does these beautiful linen dresses and I ordered a dress and a jumpsuit for the summer through Instagram, essentially. That's the power of social media. It's a different experience from being in a shop or online, discovering something through Instagram on people whose style you love.

Caroline Issa at Paris Fashion Week in March. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Caroline Issa at Paris Fashion Week in March. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

For fall, like I said, I've ordered lots of Sacai and I got my huge new fall collection for Nordstrom. I've got my eye on some Dior coats, there's an amazing shearling Kenzo leather jacket and their suits, which I love. Obviously all the neoprene at Prada, there's an amazing pink neoprene coat that I definitely have my eye on. And the last thing, I've actually popped into the Miu Miu store already to find out when all the fall Miu Miu shoes are coming in because I want to buy loads of those. I've been lusting after those shoes since the fall show so it's nice to have six months in between when you're like, 'Yep, I definitely want those.'

I don't think I shop specifically for fashion week but what I will do is pack specifically. There's definitely some dresses from my Nordstrom collection that I'll bring with me to New York that I haven't worn out yet. I keep some of the newness, especially for fashion week.

[Nordstrom] has done such an a amazing job on the fit [of my collection] so I just find myself wearing the suits all the time, and I've got my new fall really oversized, masculine cardigan. In London, where it's pretty chilly, I’ve been lucky that I've been able to wear comfy sweaters quite often. I think in the season you tend to heavily rotate key pieces over and over because they're new, and I think in a year's time I’ll put them away for a little bit and then pull them back out again.

I probably invest the most in coats and tailoring. Tailoring because I wear it so often and I use it as a good base, and then I love a great coat because it becomes such a big focal point in fall and winter, especially living in London where you're kind of running around town and you never take your coat off, so it almost becomes your dress for the day.

Caroline Issa at Men's Fashion Week in Paris. Photo: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

Caroline Issa at Men's Fashion Week in Paris. Photo: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

I tend to keep everything that I buy because I think when you buy with purpose you know you're always going to wear it again. Actually, that said, there were three dresses that I decided I probably wouldn't wear again. I loved wearing them and I've worn them enough, and I invited my friend over a couple of nights ago who's going on a summer holiday and I thought, 'Okay, this the perfect time for her to wear them,' so she's kind of custodian of my dresses now, and luckily they're in her wardrobe so I know that I can always wear them again if I need to.

[When I do get rid of things] I give them away, I give them to friends. I've recently been looking at all these sites like 1stdibs and The Real Real and it's always great to see someone's trash as someone's treasure, and I've definitely been gravitating towards old season Prada and old season Gucci, like really old, 12 years old stuff, and I’m finding some awesome things.

I was a huge vintage shopper in my teens, but now that I'm surrounded by so many amazing and young designers, there's too much great new stuff to be buying so I mostly shop contemporary.

I look back at some old collections that I wish I'd bought more of, like Stefano Pilati for Yves Saint Laurent. I have so many amazing pieces and there's so many more that I would have loved to have gotten that I definitely feel the one-that-got-away pangs, and then I've been lusting after the Prada lipsticks kilt skirt from 15 years ago and I still can't find it. There's definitely key pieces that you kind of dream about and you put Ebay alerts out just to see if maybe they'll pop up.

I interviewed Iris Apfel and we talked a little bit about regret and how do you give things away and how do you not regret not buying something and she said, 'Of course there's always things that you're going to regret but there's always tomorrow.' So I definitely subscribe to her optimistic viewpoint that even if you missed out, there's always more stuff to come."