It’s strange how the Internet has made even the most obscure of personalities or brands accessible to even the most far-flung places. Take, for instance, the striking woman I am interviewing in the middle of Greenbelt 5 who, just the night before, gushed about the experience of riding a jeepney. “I am obsessed! My boyfriend and I were like, ‘We’re going to buy a jeepney and take it home with us!’”
Caroline Issa, a familiar face in street style blogs run by The Sartorialist, Garance Doré, and Tommy Ton, and has been profiled several times by the likes of Style.com, Business of Fashion, The Cut, and The Telegraph was flown from London to Manila by homegrown retail brand Harlan+Holden as a creative consultant.
Caroline is the type of fashion personality who is famous in certain circles. In 2012, Jenna Lyons tapped her to be the British ambassador for J.Crew, while luxury London-based brand L.K. Bennett collaborated with her in 2013 on a limited-edition line of women’s shoes. More recently, she released a line of clothing in partnership with Nordstrom. However, unless you follow these tight-knit #squads, it’s likely that you’ll miss her in a crowd of more flamboyant characters.
Luckily for her, though, the right people were paying attention. She first broke into the fashion industry 13 years ago by joining Tank, a biannual fashion and art magazine, as publisher and executive fashion director. She also handles clients like Tod’s, Hugo Boss, and Nordstrom as a creative consultant for Tank Form Creative Agency, and launched an online magazine called Because in 2009.
During her short three-day trip to Manila, we picked her brain on the local retail scene, Filipina style, and the future of shopping as we know it.
Preen: In previous interviews, you’ve said that to work in fashion, you need to have a unique point of view. What’s yours?
Caroline Issa: Great question. I think my unique point of view probably stems from having a very non-conventional fashion career path. I studied management and finance. I went to Wharton, which is at [the University of Pennsylvania]. Very hardcore analytics school, and then I became a management consultant, which was very numbers-based.
After three years, I moved to London and that’s where I met the team at Tank. And I quit that very stable, well-paying job of pure business and moved into this business of fashion publishing and fashion branding.
And that’s not typical. So I think my perspective comes from very commercial, kind of curious analytical place with a real appreciation for beauty and for craftsmanship, and for the way things are made, and the way business are run.
And you know, I’m not saying for better or for worse, but some other people who are just stylists and only think about the visual might not appreciate everything else that goes into making that one piece of clothing.
How has your collaboration with Nordstrom influenced the way you handle your fashion brands?
Hugely. I now understand how challenging it is to get people to part with their very hard-earned money. You have to create products that people want or need. Or desire so much that they can’t live without it. It’s also made me appreciate the production cycle, understanding from sketch to literally manufacturing to delivering. How challenging that [all] can be.
Now I really understand [a] brand’s challenges in terms of getting the product to the floor, getting their sales people on message, getting the sales made, ringing up that cashier, and all of that has absolutely influenced the advice, recommendations, and the approach.
What drew you to Harlan+Holden?
Their vision! This idea of real freedom through simplicity. It’s such a relevant idea and challenge today because all of us between social media and our jobs and our social lives, you know, there’s so much going on. I think anything that wants to help you give more time to spend on the things that matter, it’s a really interesting concept.
How [to] translate that to clothing, and how you inject that with meaning, so that it’s not just a dress, but it’s actually the thing that makes your life a little bit easier. Another thing that I love about Harlan+Holden is how versatile it is. You can dress it up or dress it down.
You also released a digital app in 2013 that marries print and digital. Can you tell us more about that?
Fashion Scan integrates print seamlessly with digital mobile content. And that for me has meant that we completely believe that mobile is actually the savior of print, which is very counterintuitive. And that’s why weirdly as a magazine publisher of print magazines, especially where our heart and history lie, we’re really excited about the future. But experimenting for the last three years, it’s been incredibly exciting technology and it adds so much value to print.
We’ve applied it to retail spaces, like Lane Crawford and Nordstrom, and you scan all the tags of my clothing and you get the film behind the look book, and you actually get the look book afterwards, so different brands can use it in different ways.
And it’s early days! You and I, we’re not used to scanning stuff at a story or even scanning our magazines, but I think once behavior changes, it will be really exciting.
How has the Internet changed the way people shop?
There used to be one behavior, which was, you go into the store twice a year and then you buy the new season. And that is totally not the case anymore!
Have you heard of designer called Vita Kin? She’s this Ukrainian designer, she does this Ukrainian traditional embroidered dress, and in the last two months, because three street style stars Instagrammed themselves wearing this dress, her business has exploded through WhatsApp and direct message.
Discovery is so much more exciting nowadays with social media. And I’m really curious because Far Fetch just bought Browns, so online player buying a physical icon. What is that going to mean for shopping and how are they going to use technology?
In your short visit, what has been your impression of Filipina style?
I find the Filipino community that I’ve interacted with incredibly stylish and really, they care about the way that they dress, they care about what their clothes mean and symbolize about them. You know, it’s not really just about dressing. It really reflects the personalities of the people that I’ve met and I love that.