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How I Shop: Moda Operandi Fashion Director Lisa Aiken

"To be honest, I'd rather spend my hard-earned cash on something that really I've fallen in love with versus a white T-shirt."
Lisa Aiken at Paris Fashion Week spring/summer 2020.

Lisa Aiken at Paris Fashion Week spring/summer 2020.

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 our column "How I Shop."

Sure, the word "inspiration" can definitely be overused in the fashion industry, but it's never more appropriate than when discussing Lisa Aiken

For instance, there's career motivation: She turned her college internship into a full-time job and continues pioneering in the ever-evolving retail industry. Now, as Women's Fashion Director at luxury fashion e-commerce trailblazer Moda Operandi, Aiken regularly introduces fashion obsessives to the most innovative and (soon to not be) up-and-coming brands from all over the world. She also perpetually serves up major street-style inspo from her fabulous buying trips around the globe and attendance at international fashion weeks. But mostly, after our conversation, Aiken has inspired (if not validated) me to keep on shopping — but in an informed, instinctual and, yeah, sentimental way. 

"One of the things I enjoy the most, both in my professional capacity and personally, is finding new talent and new brands," she says, over the phone. "I love that feeling when you're wearing something and someone asks you who it is and it's an under-the-radar label that you discovered and it feels like your secret and you have that sense of credibility. 'Oh, I found this myself. I fell in love with it for the piece, not necessarily for the brand name or anything else.' For me, that's the most exciting part of how I shop."

Yes, yes! Plus, our chat also encouraged me to treasure all those hard-earned and -won fashion purchases in my closet (or closets — sorry, husband). Of course, one should also curate one's wardrobe regularly, especially in apartment-dwelling cities where storage space limited. As a fashion professional, street-style star and avid consumer, Aiken unsurprisingly has her own Marie Kondo-esque philosophy, which relates back to how she shops. (And, hey, I'd read that book, if she wrote one. Just saying.) 

But in the meantime, Aiken shares how she integrates her shopping ethos for her job and for herself, what wardrobe essentials she couldn't part with after her closet purge (and which designer handbag she passed on to a lucky friend) and when she jumped online to snap up this season's hottest item before it sold out. (She shops just like the rest of us!)

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How Lisa Aiken Went From Marketing Student to Industry Beloved Fashion Director
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Aiken at London Fashion Week spring/summer 2020.

Aiken at London Fashion Week spring/summer 2020.

"I'm not really a uniform dresser; in many ways I wish was. I admire women that are. I have learned a lot about my style as I've grown up. I've really reached this point where I pretty much dress for myself. I'm less of a fashion magpie than I used to be and certainly less trend-driven then perhaps I was. So I landed in this space where I dress more on the minimal side, but I always add a twist to something. That's my safe place. I love a great fashion piece that I can build an outfit around, but I generally stay on the slightly more understated side.

When I get up in the morning, I always have something that I want to wear. Wherever that comes from — whatever mood I'm in; whatever the weather looks like; whatever my day or schedule looks like. I always have something that I've decided I've become fixated with. It might be a statement blazer or a certain shoe or footwear option and then you start from there. Essentially it's that feeling of knowing the one thing that you definitely do want to be inspired by. 

In the moment, I'm living in combat boots, so everything tends to tie back to that. You can [wear them] with a rather girly dress and it comes off as looking really cool or with denim and a puffer jacket when it's particularly frightful outside. I'm wearing my Proenza Schouler topstitch boot day-after-day. If I managed to get my hands on the Bottega Veneta ones that sold out everywhere, then I would probably have been wearing those. 

I'm in the really fortunate position where I work for a retailer like Moda and I get to travel the world and see all of these collections first-hand — watching the runway shows, as well as visiting showrooms. You're really able to make a far more informed decision about personal style, when you've done all of the market research. If I was shopping for interiors, it [would be] a much more challenging prospect for me because I feel like I need to see everything.

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I'm very much an online [shopping] girl. At the beginning that was born out of convenience and, over time, it's become more and more a preferred method. Just from being able to see everything more quickly, being able to have clarity in terms of looking at an item and having full descriptions. I love the fact that everything that is delivered to me is in pristine condition. Obviously, everything that's sitting on the shop floor, you have that 'how many times has that been tried on?' or 'has it been returned?' questions, which I feel is less of a mindset when you're shopping in the online environment. I've also spent my entire career in luxury fashion e-commerce, so I have grown up with it.

Obviously, I'm a big Moda Operandi shopper. I do also shop across different platforms, but for different things. One of the biggest things for me is that I invest in true statement fashion pieces that I really feel excited about and emotional over. I definitely am a planner, so I prefer more considered purchasing and that comes down to investing in fashion pieces that you know you're going to love in the future. To be honest, I'd rather spend my hard-earned cash on something that really I've fallen in love with versus a white T-shirt. When it comes to my basics, I buy a size small white men's T-shirt from Topman, which is $15 online or I buy my basic cashmere sweaters from Uniqlo

Bottega Veneta is a favorite collection at the moment. I can't say anything else. I've really fallen in love with what Daniel Lee is doing. I'm obviously very fortunate to be privy to [new collection] launch dates. So it was like midnight on a certain day, back in November, when the resort collection went up, and I was definitely online. It was in my diary. I bought the shoulder pouch bag. I love the pouch clutch that's been around for a couple seasons, but I do live in New York City, so I definitely need something a bit more practical. I knew that the bags were launching because I had seen it in the showroom six months earlier. I was ready and waiting for when it launched online overnight. And sure enough, it sold incredibly quickly on Moda. We sent an email [to Moda Operandi clients] the hour it launched, so I knew that if I didn't get in there quick, I wasn't going to get what I wanted.

I organize my wardrobe by category. So I have jackets, dresses, tops, pants, coats... This helps when you come back from a buying trip and you need to get what you need very quickly. But also, you see the gaps you have at the beginning of the season. So if there's something that you know that you're thinking about, you can very quickly see if that's existing [in your wardrobe].

I've recently moved from London to New York, so I definitely had to downsize. But it actually made me be very ruthless with the things that I was really passionate about versus the things I was willing to let go. It was really interesting to go through that process and make those decisions because some interesting things survived. Whereas other things, I looked back and thought, 'Yeah, I bought that off-the-cuff versus in a way I would normally shop.' 

Milan Fashion Week spring/summer 2020.

Milan Fashion Week spring/summer 2020.

But, I have quite sizable closets. I have two and a half closets — like two doubles and a single — which is quite substantial. I'm aware of that and my husband is very aware of that. I feel like it's par for the course in the role that I'm in. 

It's really interesting to see what stayed in my wardrobe. So much of it was brands from their first or second season. So it really was truly emerging talent when they came out with pieces that wouldn't necessarily be seen again or known again if you were walking down the street. But they're the pieces you ultimately fell in love with.

So what stayed? I'm a big fan of A.W.A.K.E. One of their earliest designs was a [pleated] full skirt with a handkerchief hem, it was a wraparound, that I have in two colors and can't decide ... well, I don't want to give either of them up, so they both stayed. Actually, I have quite a lot of A.W.A.K.E. in my wardrobe, the more I think about it. For evening-wear, I kept Australian brand Michael Lo Sordo. I've been a fan of Rejina Pyo for a very long time and have multiple pieces. There are two contemporary brands that came out with similar timing: Ganni from Copenhagen and Nanushka from Budapest. From Ganni, I had some of those early dresses — the big mohair ones — and Nanushka, all of the vegan leather pieces, which are still very much part of their collection now. That's how they have that sense of longevity for me.

Decision-wise, it came down to if it [didn't] fit — and we all grow up and our bodies change and everything else. I really wasn't going to suggest that one day I would fit back into it or that it would even suit me again. There was also, 'Do I still feel emotional over that piece?' There's a Marc Jacobs black and white, leopard-print shift dress from the Spring 2013 collection. I loved it walking down the runway. I loved it in the showroom. I was so excited about it, even now. I haven't worn it in awhile, but that's not my decision-making process. I know that ultimately I'll want to wear it again just because I had been so committed to it for so long. 

A lot of my pieces got handed over to friends in London, which they were pretty thankful about. I have a girlfriend who was about to start a big job on the fashion PR side. She was like 'I need a great designer handbag' and it was just fortuitous timing — so she had her new handbag for her first day at work and that meant a lot to me that I could do that. It was a gray Givenchy Antigona that I remember very clearly purchasing at Barneys when I was on a trip here."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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