The business of high fashion is not for the faint of heart. But when you’re Lauren Santo Domingo, there’s really very little that intimidates you
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If you go to style.com and search “Lauren Santo Domingo,” 175 photos pop up of her in fabulous gowns at high-society soirees and ultra hip outfits in the front row at fashion shows. Her hair is blown out like a sheet of gold, she carries the latest Jack and Lazaro bag, and her figure is elongated like an illustration of a couture model. You think: beautiful girl.
Then a Google search probes beneath the sheen. Lauren Santo Domingo, née Lauren Davis, from Greenwich, Connecticut, is a contributing editor at Vogue; has her own column, “APT with LSD”; and is cofounder and creative director of innovative online retailer Moda Operandi, where customers gain access to collections straight off the runway. The picture is clearer: Powerful Woman.
In the 25,000-square-foot Moda Operandi offices in Tribeca, where seventy-five employees work, the real Lauren Santo Domingo emerges. She is six feet tall in stilettos, and her designer’s dream body is clothed in a feminine Nina Ricci print skirt and lavender sweater. A Carven deer-print jacket is draped over her chair. Surprisingly, even though Lauren is hosting a baby shower at the Carlyle for Margherita Missoni today, she wears minimal makeup—a hint of lipstick and a touch of mascara to bring out her amber eyes. Her flaxen hair has not seen a blow dryer today, and her smile elicits authentic crinkles around her eyes—something that has been banished from most socialites’ faces.
Lauren is more than a socialite who spends hours primping. This thirty-seven-year-old entrepreneur is changing the way the world’s most stylish women shop and the most promising designers sell their wares. She gushes confidence and barely needs any prompting in recounting the story of how she became a fashion-industry powerhouse.
Thataway Café to Carolina Herrera
“I grew up in Old Greenwich, off Shore Road. My backyard was Long Island Sound,” begins Lauren. Her dad, Ronald Davis, founded and served as CEO of Perrier Group of America, and her mom, Judy, is an artist. “I spent summers sailing, swimming and synchronized swimming at Rocky and playing golf and tennis at Innis. By freshman year in high school, my parents made me have summer jobs. I worked at Thataway Café. I had an internship in the city one summer at an ad agency. I worked as an au pair, and even for the World Wrestling Federation.” As Lauren talks, it’s hard not to notice her high cheekbones, aristocratic nose and full lips.
“I knew a girl, Anne Nolte (a Darien native who went on to work for Vogue and Chaiken), who was modeling. I thought it was so amazing that she went into the city and did all these shoots. I really wanted to try it,” recalls Lauren. Elite promptly signed on the lanky beauty. “My first job was a ballet shoot for Sassy magazine,” continues Lauren. “I watched the editor talking to the photographer and the makeup artist, directing the models. When she spoke, there was a hush and the team would immediately rally. I said to myself, That’s what I want to do.” Lauren was a sophomore in high school.
“I feel really lucky that not only did I know my passion and calling early on, but I was exposed to it and it was attainable,” says Lauren. “I realize how fortunate I am that I grew up in Greenwich in the country but New York was only a Metro North ride away.”
At Greenwich Academy, Lauren was not sporty. She spent her afternoons at Greenwich Ballet Workshop, where the training did more for Lauren than help her land that first modeling job.
“The instructor’s name was Felicity Foote. She would smoke in class and have this long ash. It was incredible! There was a live piano player,” recounts Lauren, talking with her slender hands, which feature unpainted fingernails and look like they should play piano. “Every summer her top dancers would go to Europe to train and perform. It was the last summer before I was going off to boarding school (Kent) and I hadn’t been invited to go. But then Mrs. Foote sat me down and said, ‘Normally I wouldn’t ask you, because you don’t have the natural ability as everyone else does, but I’ve never had anyone as passionate and committed. You are coming for that reason.’ I learned early on that you have to be dedicated and you have to persevere.”
Lauren continued to model during summers and on weekends, inspired by the supermodel era. “You couldn’t escape that. It looked like they were having a lot of fun,” she says. “I never missed a day of school to model, though. My parents told me that if I wanted to continue after graduation, I’d have to reimburse them the cost of my private school education. So, uh, it didn’t make sense!”
Lauren chose to study at the University of Southern California. “When I was doing my college applications, there was five feet of snow and then three feet of ice on top,” she says. “Your hair would freeze on the way from the gym back to the dorm. I’m also third generation USC. Growing up we had a vacation house in Emerald Bay in Laguna Beach.” Lauren rushed Pi Phi and majored in history. “I was drawn to the most decadent and outrageous periods. I soaked up the culture, art, and literature and forced myself to barely understand the political history. I was more interested in what the queen was wearing to the revolution.”
After graduating, Lauren went to Paris. That’s where she met her husband-to-be, Andres Santo Domingo, son of Colombian billionaire Julio Mario Santo Domingo. “He was in his junior year abroad, so I was the older woman,” notes Lauren. Meeting her dream man was followed by her dream job: an assistant position at Vogue in New York, “that job every girl wanted.”
“It was hard,” Lauren admits. “I wasn’t prepared. It was probably like the equivalent of a Goldman Sachs analyst job, but it was amazing. For three years, all I did all day was deal with clothes. I saw couture dresses, ready-to-wear dresses. Everything came through my office. I would request them from the PR firms and then send them off on shoots. That prepared me—not only the long hours, the stress and the extreme dedication—but this intimate knowledge of fashion that has served me so well. I can spot any designer, any fabric, any silhouette. If I see an old dress, I can tell you what season it’s from, possibly the exit number when it went down the runway, and if it was a really special dress, maybe the model who was wearing it. I developed almost a photographic memory for these dresses.”
Lauren went on to do PR at J. Mendel and Carolina Herrera. “Both were family-owned small companies, and it was during that time that I thought, I would love to start my own business,” explains Lauren. “Mrs. Herrera was so inspiring. It was fascinating to watch her. She was so in charge of her domain.”
The statement proves prophetic when Indre Rockefeller, who oversees the trunk show side of Moda Operandi, peeks in to see if Lauren can review some vintage Rolexes. (Yes, Indre is the wife of a Rockefeller heir. It could just as easily have been Hayley Bloomingdale or Ashley Bryan, Anna Wintour’s boyfriend’s daughter. They all call Lauren boss.)
The meeting is brief and efficient. “I love this story,” comments Lauren, assessing the watches Indre places on the table. “These could almost go in the men’s category.” She shuffles some out of the lineup. “The olive with gold—love that. So when will these go? In time for Christmas?... You’ll make it really clear that these ship immediately?... Gift wrapping is available?”
Indre answers in the affirmative, adding, “Italian clients are wearing one on each wrist to make more of a statement.”
“In Newport Beach, they wear two on one wrist, for two time zones, because they’re bi-coastal,” says Lauren, poking fun.
Indre then presents some Birkin bags in “rare, exotic colors.”
“Some of these don’t seem so rare and exotic,” Lauren interjects, but Indre quickly explains that those are for “Boutique,” not the trunk show.
“Ah, OK,” Lauren says. “Can we not put them all in at once and trickle them in? This one is heaven.” She points to “a silver Kelly limited super-rare edition. It’s so special, I almost wouldn’t put it on the website. Give one of our best customers the first chance of getting it.”
Talk about a woman in charge of her domain.