Forbes Middle East


Catwalk Couture At The Touch Of A Button

Hannah Stewart
Catwalk Couture At The Touch Of A Button
Dubbed by Vogue as Fashions Fairy Godmother, Áslaug Magnúsdóttir is granting wishes across the fashion industry with the introduction of groundbreaking e-commerce concept, Moda Operandi. Fulfilling the dreams of fashionistas the world over, Magnúsdóttir and fellow co-founder Lauren Santo Domingo are opening up the beautifully crafted door to the untapped world of catwalk fashion. Through their unique online platform, the two stylish businesswomen enable the pre-order of pieces from some of the most renowned designers in the world from Marc Jacobs to Alexander Wang, just 48 hours after they hit the runway. With $50 million raised to date through three rounds of financing, this revolutionary concept launched out of New York in February 2011 is quite literally tailoring the fashion industry to suit, providing the perfect fit for top designers and discerning customers alike.

Returning from the exotic shores and catwalks of Brazil just the night before, and with her (no doubt exquisite) bag already packed for a whistle stop business trip to Dubai, Magnúsdóttir shows no sign of fatigue as she shares her concept from the comfort of Moda Operandis New York HQ. For the Icelandic CEO and co-founder, who boasts an impressive track record as VP at U.S.-based luxury e-commerce company, Gilt Groupe, and co-founder of venture capital firm, TSM Capital, the creation of Moda Operandi was prompted by the need to bring together designers together with women who have an appreciation for their vision. I would often hear from designers that many of the most special and unique pieces in their collections were not carried by traditional retailers and therefore, were not being produced remarks Magnúsdóttir. Meanwhile, I would hear from friends, and also experienced for myself, that certain runway pieces that we loved were nowhere to be found, she adds.

A far cry from the discount designer outlets that occupy an increasingly large online and physical retail space, Moda Operandi satisfies both designer and consumer, marking a positive step in ensuring the future of an inspirational industry, (yet one in which new and upcoming talent can struggle to survive). Moda Operandi is the only online platform where one can access the full, unedited collections of designers, months before they are available anywhere else, remarks Ingvar Helgason, one half of the design duo behind emerging brand Ostwald Helgason. As the only pretailer online at the moment, they are an invaluable retailer to the emerging designer, he adds.

In addition to affording greater visibility for unique collections, thanks to the 50% deposit required for each order, the unique concept conceived by Magnúsdóttir and Santo Domingo provides designers with much-needed cash flow and feedback on which of their designs are proving most popular valuable advantages for even the most established names. Luxury e-tailers such as Moda have helped expand our global reach explains Edward Chapman, CEO of renowned U.S. designer brand, Marchesa. But most importantly, their high level of expertise in providing the right quality of service to high net worth individuals has helped build consistent, incremental sales through the platform.

Meanwhile, gone are the days of department store disappointment for fashion savvy shoppers frustrated, not only by the absence of designer pieces, but by the inability to find them in anything other than a size zero.

While identifying and selecting unique designer pieces via Moda Operandi can be almost instantaneous, a three to four month period is required to create and deliver tailor-made pieces to their devoted owners-to-be, attesting to the adage that good things come to those who wait. This is a small price to pay for one-of-a-kind garments it seems, as women from 150 countries across the world catch on to the Moda Operandi phenomenon.

The Middle East is no exception with word of mouth proving invaluable in spreading the Moda Operandi message amongst the regions elite and fashionable. Though rapidly transitioning from a members-only model to an open site accessible to all, recommendation from friends and peers has proven to be one of Moda Operandis greatest profit turners. Even though we opened up the site early this year, we still see strong networks of customers who told one another about Moda Operandi and the service we provide, explains the CEO.

Understanding her customers well, Magnúsdóttir who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School explains that preferences vary by region. According to the fashion expert, where Arab ladies are concerned, special gowns, dresses, and long-sleeved pieces from designers such as Alberta Ferretti, Marchesa and Valentino prove particularly popular, with interest in emerging designers on the increase.

Moda Operandis Arab markets currently include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, with most interest emanating from Abu Dhabi. But while the Middle Eastern clientele is becoming increasingly comfortable with the concept of e-commerce, it still lags behind its American and, to a lesser extent, European counterparts where online affinity is concerned. Nevertheless, Magnúsdóttir is clear about Moda Operandis potential for success in the Arab world. We have a growing population of customers in the Middle East who are buying those special pieces at a higher price point, she remarks. With average transaction size in the region standing at $4,500, Magnúsdóttirs confidence is not without foundation.

Building on her success to date, the ambitious Icelander is optimistic where the Middle East is concerned, I believe weve only started reaching a small sub-section of the potential market in the region, she asserts. In fact, the Arab world is already one of Moda Operandis fastest growing markets; a reality which Magnúsdóttir attributes to the appreciation amongst Arab women for guaranteed access to the best. Through her online platform, the complete collections of coveted designers that traditional retailers fail to stock or that quite simply sell out fast are just a click away.

For Tony Glenville, Creative Director at London College of Fashions School of Media and Communication, this accessibility that Moda Operandi provides is central to its success, I think access is the key to all labels and brands now, where the balance between store retail and online has to be arranged and monitored, Glenville explains. The idea of being able to buy the special from wherever the client may be, at any time, is also key to online shopping especially so for professional women, he adds.

Looking ahead to another fashionable and lucrative year for this ground breaking concept, Magnúsdóttir and her team which now stands at over 70 people are set to launch what the co-founder terms in-season shopping featuring a select fashion range from 40 core designers to complement Moda Operandis existing pre-order services. Furthermore, trips around the world in pursuit of the best designers and collections are beginning to pay off as the company prepares to venture out of the virtual realm. We are hosting our very first pop-up shop in Brazil in March 2013 featuring a curated selection of pieces from British designers garnering a lot of buzz in the industry right now, enthuses Magnúsdóttir.

Designers are not alone where buzz is concerned; the elegant co-founder and her concept are generating quite a stir, with dozens of upcoming and established designers now on board bringing Moda Operandis brand portfolio to over 300. While the passion which has driven Magnúsdóttir to success lies in the lines, textures and folds of the fashion world, the insightful businesswoman turns to a much closer source for inspiration, I lead a charmed life that takes me all over the world where I get to meet inspiring and brilliant people every day, but my greatest source of inspiration remains my son, explains the proud mother.

Though passion and inspiration may be vital for success, Magnúsdóttir understands only too well that these components in isolation are not enough; differentiation in what counts as a highly saturated space, along with a solid, well-conceived business plan are key to making any entrepreneurial dream a reality. Moreover, identification of the right people from investors to in-house talent is paramount. I have learned that I will have the greatest success in business when partnering with or building a team that complements my expertise, explains the co-founder who counts Givenchys Riccardo Tisci as her favorite designer. This is precisely why the Icelander turned to Santo Domingo; In addition to sharing my vision I knew that Laurens keen eye, deep rooted relationships with designers, and attuned aesthetic sensibility perfectly aligned with my business acumen... asserts Magnúsdóttir.

The combined vision of these two inspirational women promises good things to come. However, even the fairy godmother of fashion has her vices, My weakness is that I buy too many shoes! confesses Magnúsdóttir. But the co-founder can be permitted her shoe fetish, as she and Santo Domingo strive to revolutionize the fashion industry, opening up a new world of couture delights as they go.
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