Lauren Santo Domingo is the visionary behind the pioneering e-commerce platform
Like many game-changing ideas, Lauren Santo Domingo’s decision to co-found Moda Operandi was partly inspired by a dilemma that took far too much time and effort to solve. “I attended Prada’s resort show—it must have been in 2009—and this beautiful silk-chiffon dress with a geometric print went down the runway,” remembers Santo Domingo, who at the time was working as an editor at Vogue. “We called the dress in to photograph it, someone wore it on a red carpet: It was quite memorable. Fast-forward to the month the dress was supposed to arrive in stores—remember, at this time, stores were a lot less connected. I called Prada’s Madison Avenue boutique, I called their Bal Harbour boutique and a whole series of department stores, and no one had it. Finally I located one dress, not in my size, and I grabbed it. I still wear it.”
But it was undeniably an eye-opening moment, Santo Domingo adds: “If I, who through my work had access to some of the most beautiful things in the world, couldn’t get my hands on this dress, then what chance did a woman who didn’t work in fashion have?” A front-row regular who also worked in-house at J. Mendel and Carolina Herrera, Santo Domingo expanded access to high-end fashion to every woman in 2010 when she and co-founder Áslaug Magnúsdóttir created Mo-da Operandi, which enables consumers to preorder from designer collections. Santo Domingo and her crew travel to fashion shows in New York, London, Paris and Milan—that process kicks off this month with New York Fashion Week from September 9 to 14—photographing collections from brands both major and emerging and posting the designs to the site quickly after their debut.
For consumers who’ve fallen in love with the latest luxe looks from, say, Brandon Maxwell or Julien Dossena’s inventive work for Paco Rabanne, you can order via Moda Operandi right away, rather than cross your fingers and hope to find a cherished piece when it arrives in stores. Twelve years following the launch of the site, Moda Operandi remains a visionary e-commerce destination, its success also defined by its lack of competition in the market. “No one else is doing what we’re doing, because it is hard,” Santo Domingo says. “One must have incredibly deep connections within the designer community. It also takes a level of taste and trust others just don’t have.”
Among the advantages of Moda Operandi’s business model: Because data and trends about a collection can be gathered once it’s gone live on the site, Santo Domingo says details ranging from sizes to customer favorites to locations where a brand is popular (or not) offer valuable insight to a designer. “Within seven minutes of a collection being posted to the site, we know which pieces are going to be best sellers,” she says. Meanwhile, the model also offers an element of sustainability, “Within minutes of a collection being posted to the site, we know which pieces are going to be best sellers.” with designers creating pieces guaranteed to travel to an end consumer, rather than ending up in landfills—or, as is often the case with some upscale labels, destroyed rather than deeply discounted. “The goal is less waste, less markdown, and the designer ultimately can be smarter about his or her production,” Santo Domingo notes.
A curated section of the site, dubbed Lauren’s Closet, highlights Santo Domingo’s favorites. While she concedes that the job requires ample travel, you’ll never see her signing on to a plane’s onboard Wi-Fi. “I turn off my phone, I don’t do emails, I don’t do social media,” she says. “Instead, I’ll read magazines, watch a movie, or sometimes edit the photos in my phone. The second onboard Wi-Fi became popular I was miserable, and I realized what I loved most about travel was that time to relax and unwind alone—even if I’m surrounded by hundreds of other people.”
Lately Santo Domingo has been rethinking her travel schedule. “Pre-pandemic, it was totally normal for me to fly to London in the morning, have a day of meetings, and then fly home that evening,” she says. “Post-pandemic, my schedule has gotten a lot more thoughtful, but the fashion industry also has helped with that, because so much of what we do went online out of necessity. Still, we are an industry that’s about touch and feel and seeing in person how clothing moves, so that aspect of my work will never go away. I also love that there’s always newness in fashion. I am never bored.”