Ask any fashion obsessive about their dream job, and it might sound like an exact description of Lisa Aiken’s role. “As retail fashion director at Net-a-Porter, I work to identify trends for the season, key pieces we will all want in our wardrobes, and the collections that we feel most excited about.” And if that doesn’t sound like enough, she adds, “I also scout new emerging brands, which is by far one of the most exciting parts of my job.”
With such an impressive list of responsibilities, it should also come as no surprise that Aiken has an equally inspiring wardrobe to match. In part because, yes, she has that It bag you’ve been eying, but also because even surrounded by a myriad of covetable designers, Aiken curates her own unique take on even the buzziest of pieces. “My personal style is pretty eclectic,” she says. “I really enjoy fashion and regularly embrace new ideas rather than sticking to a uniform.” This means that while one day she may be in head-to-toe Balenciaga, the next she’s dressed in the latest from an up-and-comer like Ganni instead.
Aiken is a woman whose career tiptoes the line between the creative and the corporate, and so she notes that in her career, there was no single trajectory to reach where she is now. “The role I had envisioned didn’t exist yet,” she explains. “I just focused on the immediate future, finding jobs that I truly enjoyed, and appreciating the ride.” And for many women similarly navigating a trajectory that may not have a single end goal, Aiken offers one of the best pieces of advice she’s received: “to not compare my chapter 2 with someone else’s chapter 10,” a dilemma that she notes “is an easy trap to fall into early in your career, and especially in the age of social media.”
Her other biggest career advice comes courtesy of her mother, who she credits with telling her, “Nothing that is worth doing is ever easy.” While there is often buzz around women in fashion like Aiken, who have emerged as a certain type of style-celebrity, it takes hard work and long hours to move up in such a notoriously competitive industry. Aiken’s job is undeniably glamorous, but it’s not easy.
Behind the scenes, there are long hours and lots of travel to take into account. Since it’s up to Aiken to have an eye on the latest trends and brands, she jumps from fashion week to fashion week around the globe, a recipe for a never-ending loop of jet lag. Yet Aiken’s passion is obvious from the moment she starts to list the trips on her calendar. It doesn’t matter that she’s just come off a red-eye from London—she’s excited. “My work travel isn’t limited to New York, London, Milan, and Paris,” she notes. “I attend the emerging fashion weeks such as Seoul, Copenhagen, Sydney, Stockholm, and Tbilisi.”
Living out of a suitcase isn’t an ideal for most women, but rather than succumb to exhaustion, Aiken has armed herself with tricks to take (at least some of) the stress out of travel. For the airport, Lisa sticks to a simple formula: “I will confess to be being a cashmere sweater, leggings, and sneaker girl.” As for making sure she has the clothing to survive a week running from showroom to showroom, with street style photographers close behind, “I pack in outfits,” she notes, a method which helps her avoid overpacking and the sudden panic of realizing that nothing in her suitcase goes together.
While checking a suitcase is inevitable with the number of outfit changes required of her, her last trick is to always have a strategic carry-on. “There is a very random selection of items that will never be checked, and not because they are expensive but because I love them so much.” The pieces range from a 10-year-old Topshop skirt to her favorite pair of Acne Studios jeans, but they’re the items she knows she can make work even if everything else gets lost in transit.
When Lisa’s back at home in Net-a-Porter’s London office, though, her schedule may look entirely different. “The focus is on setting the direction for the season ahead with the teams, shoot planning, and preparing various business presentations.” But, even in this more corporate setting, you can find her dressed in any number of cool designers featured on site. Read on to see a week in her wardrobe.
“There is usually one element that is unexpected about my outfit,” Aiken says about her office outfits. Her Monday pick is a prime example. “Take my AlexaChung pantsuit,” she notes. “It feels too formal with a shirt, but with a slogan tee, it’s more me.” Similarly, a red velvet bag may not be the traditional purse for the office, but it adds something unique to a more buttoned-up Monday suit.
Since her schedule is constantly in flux, her looks from Monday to Friday may change based on meetings or presentations, but like many women in creative industries, she reveals, “My fallback plan is always jeans, a white tee, and a blazer.” It’s a look that, besides being versatile, “is very easy to transform for the evening with large crystal earrings and a red lip.” And as for when there’s an important meeting on Aiken’s agenda, “it’s clichéd, but adding heels is always a confidence boost.”
For many, a pair of leather pants may seem more suited for drinks and dancing, not the office, but Lisa’s Tuesday look is proof that the right styling can make all the difference. “By adding animal-print heels to my sleek Joseph blouse and pant look, my outfit becomes perfect for business meetings.” Generally in a creative office, styling a more daring piece with items that are typically a bit more formal is just the trick. The bonus about Lisa’s mix-and-match attitude is that it’s also perfect for an industry that can take her straight from a meeting to drinks.
This season, high saturation dominated the runways, but while often the buzziest styles from fashion week don’t translate as well off the runway, Aiken’s experience makes her the perfect example of how to pull it off in a more realistic setting. “I embrace quite a lot of color,” she notes. But, to create a sense of balance, her Wednesday ensemble uses color to take a polished pencil skirt up a notch. Her yellow Ganni sweater feels just right when styled with a subdued gray tweed.
Between print mixing and pops of red, it’s easy to understand how some might be initially intimidated to try a look like Aiken’s Thursday ensemble. But, it’s the details that make all the difference in this cool look. Aiken sticks to more conservative silhouettes with her Balenciaga button-down and mismatched midi skirt. Then by adding coordinated pops of color between her boots, turtleneck, and bag, she makes the business feel both intentional and whimsical at the same time. For a more formal office, consider toning down the color with just a simple pair of red or white pumps, and keep printed pieces in the same color family. You’ll find a similar look is surprisingly easy to re-create.
Come Friday, dressing down has become the norm in many offices, but Aiken is out to mix things up, swapping her go-to jeans for wide-leg trousers in a bold blue. “I enjoy pairing surprising shades together such as the cyan Victoria Beckham pants with the bottle green Theory sweater.” For those who find color intimidating in an office setting, pairing brighter hues with contrasting softer tones is an easy way to mix things up.
If there’s one thing to take away from Aiken’s high-caliber career and wardrobe, it’s that taking risks pays off. Both in her outfit choices and in her time heading up retail fashion at Net-a-Porter, she’s proven time and again that thinking outside the box—whether that be taking a chance on an up-and-coming brand or daring to make runway trends work in a corporate setting—can have a big payoff.
But, at the end of the day, Aiken’s genuine love for fashion is present in everything she does. The one danger in all that is that the temptation of shopping is hard to resist (it’s part of the job, after all). So, how does she manage to keep temptation at bay? She says, “I will let you know when I figure that out!”