Brief Encounters: Lucia Tait

New Yorker and personal stylist Lucia Tait talks about her career, the changing demands of international high-net-worth clients and why she moved to Hong Kong.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 1:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 1:49am

"My fate in fashion was sealed the day I was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Although my degree was in advertising and marketing communications, every course, project and assignment we did was based in fashion and lifestyle. I've now been in the industry for exactly a decade, and I feel like I had a real leg up by choosing FIT.

When I founded Coup de Coeur Shopping Concierge, I found it remarkable that I was able to start a small business in a huge city, in a cutthroat industry, at age 24, and make a name for myself. It was actually kind of brave and crazy. But that is the gift of youth - having blind confidence and less distractions and responsibilities holding you back. Of course, my business partner and I couldn't have done it without the support of our friends and family.

We created a unique niche in the personal shopping market - bringing the client to stores and designer showrooms, allowing them insider access and perks, plus our expert styling advice. Each day was customised to the client's particular lifestyle, body type, budget and interests, and we made every trip fabulous - car services, champagne, beauty consultancies. We also did group shopping - everything from closing an entire area at Barneys for a private lunch and styling presentation with a pack of Panamanian ladies to taking a gaggle of tweens on shopping sprees at Topshop for a birthday party. I was always tuned in to e-commerce and when the right opportunity came, with Moda Operandi, I let my entrepreneurial experience guide me in a new direction.

To me, Moda Operandi is the Vogue of e-commerce. It is at once traditional and innovative and it holds itself to the highest standards. The founder [Lauren Santo Domingo] has flawless taste and style, and is also very savvy and business-minded. When you work for people like that, it brings out the best in you and it shows you the level at which you should be operating. When we created Moda's by-invitation, in-person styling service, Salon Moda, we really pushed the limits of online meets offline shopping in a way no other internet retailer was doing. It all comes back to a highly personal touch and the client trusting in your expertise on their behalf.

Fit should be the first rule for anyone, men and women, whether shopping in designer boutiques or mall stores. Brands are becoming wise to the fact that if pieces are custom fitted, they look better on and the client will crave more. Even mass market retailers such as Uniqlo offer in-store tailoring now. I encourage sequins in the day time, I love shorts for evening. Mixing prints is just about the most fun everyday fashion has been in a while. If you're wary of trends, test them with accessories first. Be inspired by everything around you and make it your own.

There are differences in what each personal styling client wants and needs. The fashion industry as a whole is responding to this as the outlook is becoming more global, rather than focused on the US and Europe. Climate and seasonal differences are important, as are regional and religious customs. I've shopped for clients who don't wear fur or any animal-derived materials; I've shopped for women who are allergic to synthetics. I've styled ladies who wear a hijab, thus focusing on long silhouettes and accessories, and I've shopped for women who wear not much at all, custom producing designer pieces to be short and shorter. Differences abound, but the similarities are there, too. Women everywhere want to look and feel their best and they want to get excited about fashion - it is supposed to be fun, after all. Additionally, with social media and e-commerce, the customer is informed in a way they weren't before - they know what they want and they aren't afraid to tell you what that is.

I'd say the biggest challenge when it comes to dressing and styling the wealthy is that there are too many options - the edit is what makes a wardrobe ultimately come together and what helps you develop and nurture your personal style. When you can have anything, you're sure to have a few misses, but I love when clients push the envelope. I think there is a real return to quality and individuality. These women want to know who the designer is, from their pedigree to the personal, and they want to know the stats on the garment itself - including materials, country of origin, and exclusivity. Nowadays, big clients really want to meet the designer. And why shouldn't they? Seeing your client in their habitat, in my experience, is the best way to get to know them and anticipate what they will need and want going forward.

These days, I just want dressing to be simple. I don't agonise over choices like I did in my 20s. I know what works and I stick to that. My move to Hong Kong came about because of love - my fiancé and I are getting married this autumn. I never planned to leave New York, but finding your soulmate brings a fresh perspective. My former clients were actually among my first friends in Hong Kong.

As told to Jing Zhang