With engines revving as the sun set on the Dubai skyline, Moda Operandi cofounder Lauren Santo Domingo zipped into the desert last week with a caravan of The Arabian Gazelles, a women’s only supercar club in the Middle East. “As a company founded and led by women, Moda Operandi is very committed to empowering women,” Santo Domingo said. The theme of the evening was celebrating women’s empowerment and the reversal of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.
“Our board of directors wanted me to travel and meet our customers so I could get important information about how women are different around the world, what their shopping habits are, their passions,” said Santo Domingo to her female guests gathered at the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve for a boho chic bedouin-style dinner. “What I’m happy to report back is that we have the same hopes and dreams, it doesn’t matter where we go.”
The dinner, featuring traditional Arabic mezze and barbecue, was styled in the latest Cabana homeware collection by Cabana editor in chief Martina Mondadori Sartogo. Moda recently added a home section to the site. Cabana, which was launched last year and has had three capsules, paved the way with its layered approach to dressing tables in bold ikat and block print motifs.
Santo Domingo, herself a lover of vintage, said in the American market, vintage doesn’t appeal widely. “I personally buy vintage, but for most American women, they can do eclectic, but it needs to be perfect, and they don’t necessarily like used.”
She approached Sartogo to do create a style of mix and match pieces that would give the same vintage look, but all the pieces are new. “Women in New York use party planners for everything so the aesthetic is perfect and somewhat uniform. What I wanted to do with Martina was break the women out of the mold but do it in a safe way.”
Most of my friends still using wedding china. As American women we are trained to choose a pattern when we are getting married and then you are committed to that. But we thought, let’s do something fun and informal so she doesn’t feel like she’s cheating on her wedding china.”
Sartogo, who flew in from London for the dinner, added that thanks to Instagram, women care a lot more about the look of their place settings and want to present something unique.
Santo Domingo quipped when she was growing up being a “hostess” was far from her mind and even viewed as anti-feminist. “You were supposed to focus on career goals.” But now she says, you can do both. “Having a dinner party is an expression of creativity and your personal style,” she said.
Santo Domingo was on a three-day visit to the UAE, where Moda Operandi also hosted a personal styling suite at the Bulgari Hotel and a party in partnership with Etihad Airlines at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.
Santo Domingo said the company is as old as her seven-year-old son, and it took her a while to get out to visit all the markets because of her young family. “Now that they are seven and five, it’s much easier. And my husband is super supportive of my travel. It helps that he owns 20 percent of the business,” she said with a laugh.
The U.S. accounts for 65 percent of the business for Moda Operandi and international markets are strategically important. “The Middle East is growing rapidly, we went from 3 to 7 percent of our business from one year to the next, without us doing much,” Santo Domingo said. They are making sure to bring relevant content to their customers, including trunk shows from Middle Eastern Designers. “We find that women from the region buy a lot of their own designers. When they see it on Moda Operandi, they reevaluate a local designer in a new international light.”