Elizabeth Leventhal’s fashion instinct kicked in at an early age. “When I was starting in kindergarten, my mom would make me pick out my clothes the night before and wouldn’t let me switch for the next morning,” says the Southern-born-and-bred brunette. Fast-forward to present day, where Leventhal’s sartorial sensibilities are continuing to come into play, as the general merchandising manager of ready-to-wear at online luxury retail game-changer Moda Operandi.
It’s a natural fit for Leventhal, who has spent her career in the online sphere. Originally an education major at the University of Georgia, Leventhal couldn’t resist her innate love of style and switched to a degree in fashion merchandising. “I’ve always been really interested in vintage clothing and finding unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. In college is really where I realized it’s something that I’m much more passionate about, and it’s just more of a creative outlet,” says Leventhal.
The next obvious step was to take the leap and move to New York City post-graduation, where she scored a position at Saks Fifth Avenue as an assistant buyer—first in designer shoes and handbags and then beauty before transitioning to e-commerce for designer ready-to-wear and evening. “I love the dot-com world, because you can change things instantly. You are developing more content and more storytelling than what you can do in a store format,” says Leventhal, who eventually landed at Gucci as the brand’s e-commerce buying manager for North America and Canada for a two-year stint before making the move to Moda.
Launched in 2011 by Gilt Groupe alum Áslaug Magnúsdóttir and Vogue contributing editor Lauren Santo Domingo, Moda Operandi began as a spin on the traditional trunk-show business model, offering members the ability to preorder pieces straight off the runway from a handpicked lineup of designers, from heavyweights like Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta and Giambattista Valli to up-and-comers such as Brandon Maxwell and Rosetta Getty. Since then, the site has expanded to include an equally editorialized selection of in-season offerings.
“I think it’s a leader in the fashion industry. [Moda] is changing the way the consumer behaves,” says Leventhal, speaking on the phone from the brand’s Daniel Romualdez–designed headquarters on Hudson and Spring in New York (conveniently a two-minute walk from her home, which she shares with her husband, eater.com co-founder Ben Leventhal). “They’re very innovative here. You have an idea and the company lets you run with it,” she says. “We’re integrated in every season and always thinking about the season ahead.”
Overseeing a 12-person team, Leventhal handles the ready-to-wear buys for the site’s trunk shows and in-season boutiques, hunting down the most covetable designers and pieces for this season and next. (If names like Baja East and Gabriela Hearst ring a bell, that’s partly because Leventhal and the Moda team helped land them on the fashion map.) “We’re telling [our consumer] exactly what she needs this season,” says Leventhal. From bridal and gala attire to travel essentials and workwear, Moda takes into consideration every fashionable facet of a woman’s life.
To understand those needs, Leventhal often puts herself in the client’s shoes: “We’re really trying to stay ahead of what she wants and reading magazines, going to art galleries, being integrated in the lifestyle and understanding where fashion is going.” To that end, the brands that Leventhal and the buying team bring to the table must meet a certain set of criteria: “We’re very careful at making sure that every brand is pretty unique,” she says. Moda not only looks for brands with a story behind them but also ones that stand out as the best in their respective categories, from evening dresses to sandals.
For Leventhal, the advantages of shopping e-commerce versus a traditional brick-and-mortar boutique are abundant. “The presentation of what happens online is such a different experience,” she says. Moda’s approach is to present its clients with compelling, styled, head-to-toe looks. A piece that might not have hanger appeal in a department store suddenly comes to life as part of an editorialized shoot that shows the buyer how to wear it five different ways and transition between seasons. “The customer can visually understand what she is buying,” Leventhal says. What’s more, a virtual team of on-call stylists, ready to answer any questions or help create a look, can customize the experience even further. “They’re sourcing one-of-a-kind products all the way to packing for [a client’s] travel destination and sending off the product to their hotel in advance. It really depends on who the customer is and making sure [the experience] is personalized for her.”
But not all aspects of Moda’s business are relegated to online. In 2014, it opened its second by-appointment-only shop in London’s tony Belgravia neighborhood, catering to a select group of globetrotting clientele. In the future, the brand will replicate the concept in the Middle East and New York (for now, VIP clients are catered to at a private salon in the Manhattan office and in their homes). And that’s not the only way Moda is expanding its international presence: Expect to find the buying team at more fashion weeks around the world in the coming year, expanding upon its current roster of New York, London, Milan and Paris. “We’ve already tapped into a lot of the brands that show at those fashion weeks,” explains Leventhal, who’s bound for Kiev, Copenhagen, Rio, Stockholm, Tbilisi and Australia. “It’s a way for us to expand globally and capture a new customer.”
If there’s anyone whose wardrobe has been impacted by Moda Operandi, it’s Leventhal herself. “My lifestyle obviously has changed. I’m traveling a lot, meeting with designers constantly. Building your wardrobe six months in advance of a trunk show is something that’s absolutely incredible, because I rarely have time to shop,” she says. “I’ve already thought about the season ahead, so it delivers right before the season starts. It’s a really cool experience.”