It’s been a whirlwind eight months for Lisa Aiken since she joined Neiman Marcus last August. As the new fashion and lifestyle director for one of the top department stores in the country, her slate can fill rather quickly with meetings, fashion shows and other events at her base in New York City.
But that couldn’t keep Aiken from being Bay Area bound, and Neiman’s San Francisco flagship marked the occasion with a dinner at Leo’s Oyster Bar on Wednesday and an in-store luncheon for clients on Thursday, complete with a fashion presentation.
The latter promised to deliver “the season’s must-haves,” but it brought plenty of charm as well.
Guests enjoyed the elegantly appointed lunch service, listening to Aiken’s chat with Carolyne Zinko, former senior style writer and society columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Meanwhile, models floated through the room, offering an up-close view for the attendees, in a scene somewhat reminiscent of lunchtime fashion shows from yesteryear.
Apart from that bit of nostalgia, however, everything else was decidedly current. In all, the store showcased two dozen looks from Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Celine, Alexander McQueen and more.
Aiken chose a Jacquemus crop top, Dries van Noten pants and Bottega Veneta heels for the occasion, and after meeting the sales associates and customers, the buzz from the experience seemed to linger on even following the function.
“This is my first visit to the San Francisco Neiman Marcus store, and I have to say that I think it went very well,” she told WWD. “I certainly met an extraordinary group of our clients who are very, very passionate about fashion and about the time that they spend with Neiman Marcus and some of their stylists.”
Whether San Francisco has a bad rap for fashion — as the land of hippie wear and cork sandals or, perhaps more recently, “tech bro” hoodies and vests — is up for debate. But nowhere is that thought more prevalent than in the minds of the area’s fashion patrons themselves, who often share self-effacing remarks about the region’s fashion cred.
Aiken clocked some of the sentiment, too, but rejects the notion.
“I’ve had a couple of clients say that to me, and yet every single person that I speak to seems to know every brand, every collection that I’m talking about,” she said. “Everyone seems very passionate about the industry and enjoys fashion, really embracing their idea of personal style. So I don’t know — maybe it’s a long-running misconception.”
There were surprises for Aiken inside the company, too. After months on the job, she still can’t get over the culture and the level of energy she’s seeing in the ranks.
“You can really feel that excitement for the future and for building something that is very differentiated within retail in the U.S.,” she continued. “There is a real commitment to that, and it runs through, from Geoffroy [van Raemdonck, chief executive officer] through to the sales associates that I have been meeting over the over the past few days.”
The observation underscores the department store’s ambition to evolve as a luxury lifestyle platform. Part of that mission is to unite its physical stores, online shopping and remote sales via its clienteling technology.
Aiken described it as “one business, one ecosystem that our customer lives in…so we come back from market, we’re talking about what projects we’re planning for the next year ahead. I think I’ve got 12 months of a calendar planned out with exclusive projects and collaborations that would stretch across digital and stores.”
That includes an upcoming project for private clients in San Francisco, in a collaboration with Prada. The ethos also extends to marketing campaigns and merchandising, spanning what it shoots for its look books and puts in store windows and emails. Aiken and others will help connect the dots — from event invitations with QR codes to exclusive microsites for VIP customers, among other things.
It sounds like a lot, especially considering this is her first role with a brick-and-mortar store. But ultimately, the foundation is the same, because a commitment to service and customer relationships transcends platforms.
That’s where department stores like Neiman’s excel, she said. “I think you understand that the value of the department store to the client is really unmatched by anyone else. If you look at some of the corporate shifts — we had that amazing news around Farfetch only a couple of weeks ago — you can see that, across the board, there is confidence in the model moving forward.”
Earlier this month, Farfetch disclosed that it’s investing up to $200 million in Neiman Marcus Group. The deal will “re-platform” Bergdorf Goodman’s site and app, and bring it to the Farfetch marketplace, along with Neiman Marcus, as part of Farfetch’s Luxury New Retail initiative.
Customers may not know, and likely won’t care, about the operational changes going on in the background. But the company believes they’ll benefit from it. And in the meantime, it’s intent on providing the exclusive experiences and personal touches that its clients do care about — like Neiman’s fashion director traveling across the country to meet them.
And, of course, they care about the fashion.
On that point, Aiken believes we’re in a rare period of creativity: “I think the industry is at a stage where, after everything that we’ve all been through — designers, stylists, editors, everyone — there’s a real sense of optimism about what comes next for the industry. That comes through in the collections that we’re seeing,” she said.
“It’s one of the most creative moments in fashion I’ve seen in a really long time.”