What's Going on With Your Favorite Shopping Sites Right Now?

Here’s a fashion-editor trick of the trade: When online shopping (aka researching), we often look for clean, bright flat-lay photos of products—something that allows us to see a jacket, pants, shoes, etc. unobstructed and simply. But lately, we’ve been questioning whether that’s actually the best way to appreciate a potential purchase, because across the board—from iconic luxury fashion houses to some of our favorite independent e-commerce sites—brands are making it (arguably) harder to see what a product looks like. And that might actually be the secret to their success.

“Perfectly crafted images don’t excite the customer anymore,” says Lucy Akin, founder of cool-girl, direct-to-consumer brand Ciao Lucia. “They have to feel real. I would say the priority for us right now is to get our brand image right. Then we can move on and focus on selling.”

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Ciao Lucia

As for Ciao Lucia, its point of view is clear. Images of the label’s silky tops are pictured on women enjoying a casual shrimp cocktail and glass of wine. We find ourselves wanting a crinkly slip dress not just because it’s pretty, but because we too might aspire to be the girl with a messy hairdo, looking back from a bar (ideally on vacation—we should add that important detail). “I like to create imagery that transports me to a different place. I think it helps make it aspirational,” Akin says.

A shift away from too-perfect images makes sense as we live in a time when so many crave authenticity. A few examples include the strict FTC regulations on Instagram stars who sneakily disguise sponsored content or how French ad campaigns must disclose when a model has been photoshopped. Retailers naturally feel this shift, too—and some are ahead of the curve.

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Lisa Says Gah

“Since the launch of Lisa Says Gah, we have aimed to curate a shop that, well, doesn’t act like one,” says Lisa Buhler, the founder of the popular San Francisco–based e-commerce site whose niche is working with female designers and ethical brands. Her site’s images are known for featuring local models shot streetside in outfits styled with a mix of vintage and new designs. She captures close-ups of garments so shoppers can appreciate every detail. If an item is off-model, it likely appears as though it’s hanging on a closet door, not symmetrically splayed out and splashed with studio lights.

The imagery is thoughtful, and that’s intentional. In an increasingly oversaturated market, our goal is to provide a stimulating and refined environment for the intelligent consumer to shop, learn, and, most importantly, find inspiration,” Buhler says about her business. “I’m starting to understand our success is based on all that added effort we put in and has set up apart in the sea of e-com.”

Lucia Zolea shares a similar sentiment. “For me, my business is an extension of my love for photos and creating moments which feel natural and fluid.” Zolea’s eponymous site is a curation of vintage pieces, often photographed in cinematic fashion (think romantic and hazy). And while her shop is distinctly a reflection of the woman behind it—“I am a firm believer that when someone is passionate and loves what they do it is transparent through their work, which I believe customers innately connect with”—major brands have also recently dabbled in alternative approaches to art.

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Lucia Zolea

Just this past holiday season, Gucci tapped artist Ignasi Monreal to illustrate its gift offerings. While a drawing might not necessarily be the most realistic depiction of popular furry loafers or a $1600 Mystic Cat sweatshirt, the initiative seemed to be more about telling a playful story than getting a photograph just so.

This different approach to e-commerce imagery doesn’t mean that shoppers are any less informed about the products they purchase. Images don’t seek to hide products, but rather put them into a different context. In fact, it’s likely this trend helps a consumer truly know their favorite brands, understand their POV, and, ultimately, return time and again. “It’s one thing to love a product for its beauty and function, but it has a whole other meaning when you know the story,” Buhler tells us. “You’ll cherish it that much more, and that’s what I want our customer to take away—that emotional connection.”