When Denise, the protagonist of Emile Zola’s 1883 novel, “The Ladies’ Paradise,” arrives in Paris, the first thing to catch her eye is the gleaming window display of a department store. “And there in this chapel built for the worship of women’s beauty and grace were the clothes: in the centre was a most striking item, a velvet coat trimmed with silver fox; on one side was a silk cloak lined with Siberian squirrel; on the other side was a cloth overcoat edged with cock’s feathers; and finally some evening wraps in white cashmere and white quilting, decorated with swansdown or chenille,” Zola wrote. “There was something for every whim, from evening wraps at twenty-nine francs to the velvet coat priced at eighteen hundred francs.”
Zola drew his subject from reality: the establishment of one of the first large department stores in Paris, Le Bon Marche, which operates to this day. While the fascination with high fashion is still relevant, today Denise would view fashion shows on her smartphone rather than merely peer through store windows.
And if she wanted to buy something, she could do that with the tap of a finger on the Moda Operandi Internet site, whose cofounder, Aslaug Magnusdottir, will be making an appearance in Tel Aviv tomorrow as part of a worldwide hunt for designers to work with her website.
Established a year ago, Moda Operandi enables consumers to shop straight from fashion show runways. Women around the world purchase directly from the designers, without department-store buyers or boutique managers as middlemen.
The original idea was to make the marketing process for designer clothes more efficient,” Magnusdottir told Haaretz by phone from New York before her visit here.
“I began to consider the idea following complaints I heard from designers. They were frustrated because they had designs that boutique owners did not buy and so they did not reach the broader public,” she says. “At the same time I heard from a lot of my friends that they would like to buy clothes they saw on the runway but were disappointed to find that they weren’t offered for sale in stores. And so the site was born, although it has still not reached the degree of efficiency we would like.”
More than 120,000 customers are registered on the website. The list of labels and designers is greater than 250 and includes Americans Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler, Isabel Marant of France and Mary Katrantzou, who works in London. But Moda Operandi customers looking for pieces from their collections will find them mainly during the fashion week shows in fashion capitals. A team photographs the collections and posts them on the site for a period of three weeks. Customers must place their orders during this time, and pay in two stages: half the sum upon ordering and the remainder when the clothes arrive.
“Choices must be fast and focused,” Magnusdottir says, though there are now additional opportunities to buy from the online magazine on the Moda Operandi site. Magnusdottir also wants to enlarge the range of options and for this reason has embarked on her global search for designers. She is to talk tomorrow about her website and the revolution in high fashion created by the Internet, as the guest of 9 Rooms, a women’s lifestyle forum that meets monthly. The forum’s director, Iris Zohar, is a Moda Operandi customer who made a late-night purchase of a white Vera Wang dress through the site in September.
This isn’t Magnusdottir’s first visit to distant places. Last summer she hosted an event in Brazil, and before that held one in Iceland, where she was born. In September she organized an event in Kuwait attended by 75 fashion-conscious women that was followed by a sharp rise in Moda Operandi sales to the region. “Today Abu Dhabi is the city with the most customers, after New York − something that happened within only a few months,” she says.
Magnusdottir says she sees the Middle East as an important and developing market but that her visit to Israel is not only intended to promote sales. She is also curious about the local design scene and expects to visit several studios here. “Right now we work with Yigal Azrouel,” she says of an Israeli designer who is based in New York. “Of course I’d be glad to discover other talented designers during my visit.” Two labels that have aroused her curiosity are Sasson Kedem and Dorit Bar Or’s Pas Pour Toi.
It seems that Moda Operandi customers don’t only flock to big names. Famous designers are important, Magnusdottir says, but what motivates her customers is “a quality product and not necessarily the name,” she says. “Our customers are of various ages but the average is in her 30s. We’ve discovered that they are looking for special items they can’t find in boutique catalogs or department stores. Unsold designer clothes answer this need.
“Part of the concept is that young designers or those who are not well known on the international scene will be awarded greater recognition,” she adds. “This sales method is especially important to beginning designers, for whom the advance payment provides them with cash flow, and the orders grant immediate feedback on the demand for their product. From the point of view of the customer, she’s always happy to discover new talent. It’s a great advantage for her.”
Magnusdottir’s list of designers she wants to work with is not only filled with promising young talent. It is headed by Lanvin, Celine and Chanel. She is currently in negotiations with the first. With the other two, the situation is a bit different.
Celine does not sell anything online. This is a strategic decision by the firm’s managers in order to create an almost sacred image,” Magnusdottir says. “Chanel is different. It is an attractive and veteran label with sales points around the world, and therefore relatively accessible.”
Magnusdottir wholeheartedly believes that even elite labels will eventually be convinced to sell online. “You must remember that even just five years ago most designers swore they would not sell their designs online, and today the situation has changed and the Internet is a sales channel for exclusive items,” she says.
“The entire atmosphere has changed in recent years, and managers understand that online sales can also provide a luxury experience.”
Does she believe that her site will open a new channel for creativity? “I think that the idea inspires them and they are rather excited by the new opportunity for direct contact with their customers,” she says. “Does this make them more creative? I don’t know yet. It is too early to say. But I am sure that in the future this platform will encourages new designs.”
And what impact does she think the site will have on store buyers? “We hope their choices will become more daring in the wake of the customers’ vote of confidence. When we send orders from the site [to the designer], we attach information about the customer. They can use this information, share it with boutique managers who acquire pieces from their collections, and turn their attention to the fact that certain models sold well in a certain area, and so perhaps the buyers should reconsider their choices.”