You see, as NET-A-PORTER's retail fashion director, Aiken is not only a front-row fixture at the shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris; but she also traverses the entire globe — attending the fringe fashion weeks from Sydney to Copenhagen — to keep abreast of the turning tide of fashion and, just as importantly, to unearth the hottest new contemporary brands. Not only can she talk about the top looks from the four major fashion capitals, she can namecheck the under-the-radar local designers from around the world (not just from her own neck of the woods, like the conventional fashion editor) and explain why they're about to go supernova.
But unlike your stereotypical fashion savant who, more often than not, tends to intimidate with an upturned pompous glare, Aiken effuses with an infectious energy. More Confessions of a Shopaholic than The Devil Wears Prada. She matches her impressive insight with honest enthusiasm. And, as such, she is hands-down one of my favourite people to chat to about all things fashion.
In Seoul for the NET-A-PORTER trend presentation for the upcoming spring/summer 2018 season, I sat down with Aiken (next to a NET-A-PORTER coffee pop-up bordered by freshly cut blooms, no less) for a frank tête-à-tête about the best trends for spring, the contemporary designers to know, and what she plans to wear to fashion week come March next year.
When it comes to trends and looks for SS18, which would you place into the following baskets: (a) must-try at all costs; (b) only for the fashion set; and (c) don't even go there? Must-try, definitely tailoring because there is a way in for everyone — whether you want something sharp, or whether you're doing blazer with a jeans and a T-shirt. Tailoring is definitely an easy one. Bold colour I would definitely put in that basket too. Pastels might only be for the fashion set. Just because I love it, but it's a bit more boundary pushing...
And do you think you need to be a particular colouring to wear pastels? No, because I think pale blue works across the board. Pale blue is my easy way in. Like, that would be the one thing that would migrate it from one basket (only for the fashion set) into another basket (must-try at all costs) if it's pale blue. So you'd do the pale blue T-shirt with high-rise jeans like we saw at Versace — that was super cool — or the pale blue mini-skirt suit from Off-White.
What about the 80s silhouette that continues to be popular? Ohhh, that could either way really. I'd probably put that into 'must-try' because there is an element for everyone. But if you look specifically at the puff sleeves sub-trend under the 80s trend, that's maybe only for the fashion set — you know what I mean?
Yeah, for sure... Whereas the tweed jacket element of the 80s trend, anyone can pull that off.
What about polka dots? Oh that's for everyone! Because that's as easy as wearing a stripe or a check. It's like that non-print print. It's so classic that you don't even have to think about it. And it's good if you want to do that as your hero piece, or you want to do a print-clash and you want something more basic — so you'd do the polka dot with a wild floral or something. That's definitely for everyone I think.
And what about looks or trends that you just went, "Ugh, I'm just not sure about that" or it's just a bit too adventurous for its time? Well I thought that about bold shoulders from last season, but it continues to build. So you never know. But there were some pretty gaudy prints around for SS18, like the money print at Balenciaga. I'm like, "Hmmm... I'm not so sure on that." (Laughs) I just don't know who would want to wear a print of like, 50 Euro notes... I'm not sure.
Reminds me a bit of Moschino. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
You either love it or you hate it. It's not like, "Oh yeah, I'll just give it a go." Totally. Oh and the belt bag trend is definitely for the fashion set.
Definitely. It has mass appeal, but it's actually a hard thing to pull off.
When it comes to your personal style, have you bought something from last season that you have yet to wear? Okay, so I have a rule. I'm out of this question, because if I don't want to wear it the next day, I send it back. It has to be that I want to wear it the next day, and I can already think: "I'll do it with this, this and this!" And if it doesn't come that easy, it's going back in that brown paper bag to NET-A-PORTER.
That's a good rule. Yes! It's either that it doesn't suit me, or I don't have the right shoes, or there's another reason why I've put it on and taken it off again.
Or if you need to buy too many things around it to make it work... Exactly, which is a no go. I need to have an immediate reaction.
Are you someone that edits your wardrobe consistently? Or are you someone that holds onto everything hoping to wear it again down the line? (Sheepishly) We're building an extension to my house because I need more space for my clothes...
(Laughs) That's brilliant! (Laughs) We're extending it to the loft because I need a walk-in wardrobe! So it's safe to say that I'm a hoarder.
When was the last time you did a real spring clean? I try to, but I just have a hard time giving things up because I have an attachment to them. And I think things look so much better in five years time anyway. Like some of the iconic Stella prints or Prada prints...
Yup, I agree. Like, I want to be the person who rocks that in five or 10 years time, and everyone is like, "Where did you get that from? Wow that is a blast from the past!" I want to be able to do that.
On that note, do you buy much vintage? You travel the world for your job, do you ever try to hunt down a coat from say, Céline fall 2005? I'm not very good at vintage. I'm going to confess. I'm not patient enough. It takes time, and it takes a lot of effort, just knowing where the best spots are. I would love to be better at it, but right now I'm not. There are some great vintage stores in Seoul that I want to check out though. I'm going to work on that and let you know how I go.
"It has to be that I want to wear it the next day, and I can already think: 'I'll do it with this, this and this!' And if it doesn't come that easy, it's going back in that brown paper bag to NET-A-PORTER"
You attend all the fashion weeks, and I wonder if you've ever noticed that so many digital influencers — regardless of where they hail from — have Asian heritage? For example: Tina Leung, Susie Bubble, Bryan Boy, Nicole Warne, Aimee Song. Why do you think this is the case? Well, a lot of those people you mentioned were really on the digital trend, and were committed to it from the beginning. And actually, they really persevered through an industry that really tried to push them away for a really long time. Serious kudos on every level to those guys. I can't imagine that was the easiest thing to deal with for a long time. Their Asian element to it? I'm not so sure. I can speak to the fact that they were all early adopters of the digital trend and, in Asia, people are so much more digitally connected than anywhere else.
Really? Do you feel that? Yes, you go through Hong Kong and you see everyone glued to their phone on the subways. And we are getting that way in the Western world for sure, but technology and social media don't quite have that same stronghold that it does here.
I only bring it up because I have a theory with my friends that, generally speaking, the Asian fashion consumer tends to be more daring when it comes to the latest trends. And a digital influencer needs to constantly update his or her wardrobe — trying on the latest and greatest. Yep, for sure.
There is a lot of courage needed to do that, because some of the styles are really out there — but they make it work, which is amazing. And I wonder if the Asian fashion consumer gets away with pushing the boundaries a little more than Western consumers? Because the Western ideal of fashion is more understated and, if they did the same, people would think, "You're trying a little too hard"? Yeah, I think you're onto something there. There is an air of confidence when it comes to Asian consumers pulling something off — there is a spirit of experimentation with new ideas. And some of the trends that we see, they start it first in such a tiny way — we see one image on Instagram and then think, "Yup, that's going to become something."
I always love listening to you talk about trends. You're so immersed in the world of fashion. We do our trend reports as well, but we tend to stick to the main fashion capitals. But you attend all the other fringe fashion weeks. So, I think our Buro reader is really interested to know: what is the next contemporary brand that is about to go supernova? There is this brand — which is not new to NET-A-PORTER this season, it was new a few seasons ago — but it's still under-the-radar: Rixo London. It's doing storming business and has that broad appeal. There's that girl who is buying it to wear it with sneakers and a denim jacket; there's that girl who is wearing it with boots in a super edgy way; then there's that girl who is wearing it as a party dress — and it's all at that price point which is comparable to Self-Portrait, so she can buy multiple options. It's an easy purchase in that sense.
Self Portrait continues to do well? Definitely. And then L.A. inspired style — I think we're going to see a lot more of those designers. For example, Sarah Staudinger is the ex-fashion director of Reformation; her bags have been a real hit. She does ready-to-wear as well, but it's her Bisset bucket bags and Moreau macramé and leather bags that have sold out. I mean, so quickly...
How did you discover Sarah's brand, Staud? I brought it in as an exclusive, because she was originally direct to consumer. And I think in the contemporary design world, that's where we are seeing a lot of brands coming from — that direct to consumer market. They are brands that have made their way on social media, got a great following, and then we brought them to a wider audience.
Great. Okay, now do you dress differently when attending fashion week when compared to your normal day? Yeah, I mean, at fashion week I think we all make a bit more effort. (Laughs) However, on workdays, I dress very similarly to how I do at fashion week. I think, for days at home in my little village in East London, then... no. (Laughs)
We tend to take more risks when it comes to fashion week. I think it makes you think a little bit more. Because it's that moment when you're putting yourself out there amongst your peers, and we're in one of those industries where, you know, your appearance is a point of view on the industry anyhow.
Correct. So it is important.
And it's a conversation starter a lot of the times as well. Now, you are a style icon... Oh thank you! (Laughs)
When we do our daily street style coverage of the shows, you're constantly featured because we love what you're wearing — and how you put it together. So, when attending the next round of fashion weeks in March 2018, what are some SS18 trends that you will be implementing into your own style wardrobe? Thank you. Okay, I definitely believe in the 80s jacket. No matter what, I'll be wearing that, because I've been addicted to blazers and now I want that colourless, Chanel-shaped jacket or cardigan from Gucci or Off-White. That is happening, for sure. I've already planned that out. What else? I will definitely be wearing neons actually.
Oh good. As in accessories or ready-to-wear? I think ready-to-wear. I'm ready for it, I think... (Laughs)
(Laughs) You go get it. I'm definitely going to do pastels. Pastels with like white accessories...
Oh nice. Yup, keeping it super clean and modern.
And a lot of colour in general? I wear a lot of colour anyway. But a lot of deconstructed dresses is one of my faves, because on the days you want to hide things... (laughs) a deconstructed dress really helps. And also, at the end of fashion month when you're really tired and you just want to put one thing on in the morning and just walk out the door, and still be very on point, that's the deconstructed dress. Because it feels very fashion...
Without having to style it up. Yup. It's just done. And probably some statement shades...
Are you loving the Matrix-esque sunnies that are trending right now? Yeah, I'm into that and I'm also into coloured lenses. We're about to launch a brand on NET-A-PORTER called Chimi —which is these colour-mirrored lenses with these coloured acrylic. They are epic. And they're retailing at about 160 pounds, so they're not super expensive.
Lisa, what is the best style advice you have ever heard? Hmmm... I don't want to quote myself, that's just super egotistical (laughs).
(Laughs) No, but it can be that. What's your style advice? I always try to add one thing that unexpected. You don't need more than that. You just need one thing that's like, "Oh, that's unusual. I didn't think you'd do that." And so, that is the thing that I think makes every outfit your own. So it can be as simple as... if you're very feminine, wear a dress with a masculine watch. You know, it's that one thing that tips the balance.
Great advice. Finally, graphic logo T-shirts and tops retailing at crazy prices — given the craft involved. What are your thoughts on that? It's all about the cult piece right now. It's a trophy piece. And I understand where it's coming from, because as years have gone by, there's always pieces that are instantly recognisable. Regardless of whether it has a logo or not, it's always been an IT bag or a certain shoe. There have always been these hot items, and this is just the latest iteration of it.
But do you think it's a little bit different now because these hot items are usually just cotton tops printed with a logo? It's all about what it represents now, not about the craft. Yeah, yeah. That's a good point. But then again it's obviously speaking to a customer in a way that she thinks it's relevant to her, and that's the most important thing.
And value is relative. Oh, a million percent. But it always has been. So if that's the thing you want to wear because you feel empowered by wearing that trophy piece...