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Social shopping: Everybody wants in
By By Eric Wilson
The New York Times , Taiwan News, Newspaper
2012-03-26 02:17 PM
A new breed of social shopping startups – basically online curators of fancy things to buy from all corners of the Web – has been popping up with head-spinning frequency. There are too many to count, as if all the venture capitalists had collectively responded to an email that promised that you, too, could make $25 an hour just by sitting at home and picking out things for other people to buy.

Most follow a basic, low-overhead business plan: A prominent socialite or stylish magazine editor posts links to her favorite looks from online retailers (like Barneys New York, Net-a-Porter or Saks Fifth Avenue), customers buy, the site gets a commission. It may sound like a bubble, but some of the sites are actually worth a browse.

MODA OPERANDI

Introduced a year ago, it offers access to fashion direct from the runways. How early? Within a week in some cases, as customers can order, with a 50 percent deposit, their favorite looks from Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang or Derek Lam months before they’re in stores. Half the fun is seeing just how much those items cost in real life: Those Proenza Schouler woven skirts and tops for fall averaged $4,000 a pop.

Lauren Santo Domingo, the exemplar of a society swan, started the site with Aslaug Magnusdottir, a former Gilt Groupe executive. Recent hires include street-style eye candy like Roopal Patel and Taylor Tomasi Hill, who offer pointers on what to buy if you want Tommy Ton to take your picture. While pundits were initially skeptical, the site has become a force on the trunk-show circuit, where the coolest customers are the ones who buy first. And they’re willing to pay full price.

FEYT

Some social shopping sites are so inclusive as to become overwhelming. Feyt, one of the newest entries, aims to be extremely discerning, with a limited number of items selected by its founders, Ferebee Taube and Eleanor Ylvisaker. Items are displayed by trend, as in a recent post called Tropical Escape that links to a Suno print dress ($758), sold at Les Nouvelles; a Stella McCartney Hawaiian print T-shirt ($314) from Net-a-Porter; and an Altuzarra bird-print pencil skirt ($1,230) from Barneys.

Taube and Ylvisaker are fashion and society pros, having worked at labels like Calvin Klein and Earnest Sewn, not to mention looking smashing in their clothes.

Too soon to say, but the site promises to make smarter recommendations as it begins to recognize customer shopping patterns. That doesn’t explain why the Tropical Escape section includes a black Helmut Lang leather jacket, or why Elizabeth and James sunglasses are categorized under Lasting Lace.

MOTILO

This is as much a portal for social shopping as Facebook is just a friend directory. It’s about the bells and whistles here: While browsing through the online stock of Net-a-Porter, Colette, Browns and Selfridges, shoppers can vet outfits with friends via online chats or video conferencing. Plus, there’s a magazine and a roster of “Motilo Girls,” fashion ambassadors, like Anna Dello Russo, who will inspire you to drop $2,645 on a Rick Owens asymmetric leather biker jacket.

Sofia Barattieri di San Pietro, the chief executive, recruited fashion extroverts like Dello Russo, the stylist Sophia Hesketh and the London galabout Bip Lingto curate products. Motilo may be the buzziest of social commerce sites, but it’s also the buggiest. Links to etailers sometimes land on their home page, rather than the specific product featured, and though the “girls” have been prolific advisers, their choices are hardly inspired. A denim shirt from Current/Elliott, Ms. Dello Russo? Ksubi cutoffs, Ms. Hesketh? Ling hasn’t posted a fresh shopping tip since October.

LIFESTYLE MIRROR

A new digital venture from Emanuele Della Valle, it creates magazine-worthy editorials in which nearly every product, be it dresses or rugs, can be purchased with the click of a mouse. In this week’s feature, the socialite Olivia Palermo wanders through Paris with her boyfriend and an improbable amount of luggage. Click on her Marni sunglasses and buy them for $375 from thecorner.com, or her 22-inch Rimowa suitcase for $450 at luggagepros.com.

Della Valle is a son of the Tod’s founder Diego Della Valle, so fashion is in the blood. Previous cover stories have starred Daniel de la Falaise and Daphne Guinness.

Visually impressive and surprisingly witty (a link on Guinness’ bookshelf directs the shopper to “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, $12), the site blurs the lines between commercial and editorial. But there’s an awful lot of product crammed into each image, making you wonder why Palermo couldn’t tip a bellboy to help with two suitcases and five handbags.

OPENSKY

Roughly 100 tastemakers do the shopping for you, hawking items as if they were on QVC. “Don’t be afraid to mix colors!” intones Veronica Webb, whose picks include Akiko dresses in the $150 range and a Missoni umbrella. OpenSky differentiates itself by focusing on a lot of under-the-radar designers, and recently teamed up with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to promote members who specialize in accessories.

Other “shops” are curated by Martha Stewart, Kim France, Carolyn Murphy and Alicia Silverstone. The founder of the site is John Caplan, the former chief executive of Ford Models.

Is a celebrity endorsement worth enough to move a cashmere sweater from a brand you’ve never heard of? According to the company, the site has accrued 1.3 million members in under a year, and weekly sales have reached $500,000.

FINO FILE

Fino File is the new online shop-able magazine from Filipa Fino, a former accessories editor, who announced her venture shortly after leaving Vogue last June. Her preview issue for holiday shopping included a cleanly styled gift guide with items like $995 boots from Celine and a $79.90 jacquard sweater from Zara, along with a history of candy canes and a lovely eggnog recipe. The first full issue, for spring and summer items, is set for release this month.

It’s all about Filipa. Fino, from a prominent Portuguese banking family, has an impressive roster of contacts from more than a decade at magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Allure and Vogue.

According to the company, which has been followed obsessively by fashion blogs, several of its featured items have sold out.

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