Last September, well into the four-city circuit of fashion shows, Caroline Issa posted a photo on Instagram that showed her smiling against a stone wall, giving a thumbs-up to a Nordstrom plaque. The caption: “Pit stop in Seattle for my @Nordstrom collab before heading to Paris for the final leg…” As if fashion month weren’t exhausting enough, the Montreal-born Londoner managed a 5,365-kilometre detour between the shows in Milan and Paris to check in on her debut clothing collection with the American retail behemoth. The social media darling (she has nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram) knew the move—in the absence of a proper runway show—would build excitement for her still-in-progress spring line.
Now that the collection exists for all to see (it launches February 9 at select locations, including Nordstrom’s Calgary store), it’s clear just how much Issa has shaped its aesthetic. Where other street-style magnets dress expressly to be photographed—sometimes to a fault—Issa draws camera flashes by sprinkling her signature polish with pops of colour, unexpected prints or clever layering, melding her management consultant past with her creative consultant present (as CEO of the Tank Group, Issa oversees Tank magazine, BecauseLondon.com and Tank Form Creative Agency). It’s an approach that has translated into a collection of updated essentials: a navy double-breasted blazer, a black double-faced cocoon shift, a white biker jacket. The kinds of pieces that, like their designer, exude chic sophistication without trying too hard. “I don’t think my customer will ever be a fashion victim,” laughs Issa, who (rather modestly) sums up her own look as “a pair of slacks and a great leather jacket.” She adds: “I don’t really think too much about my style.”
Equally natural was her relationship with Nordstrom. The retailer was among Issa’s first clients back when the business school graduate (she attended the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) was a retail strategist. Fifteen years later, she says her friendship with an old boss has evolved into what they see as an ongoing partnership. “We wanted to create something where we could learn and refine, learn and refine, and really commit to the customer,” says Issa. “Seven or eight seasons from now, we want our customer to be able to come to the shop floor and know she can find that amazing cashmere sweater or that perfect leather jacket.”
And unlike your typical here-today-gone-tomorrow collabo, whether people are familiar with Issa or not is, for her, beside the point. “It’s about great clothing,” she says matter-of-factly, adding, “I’ve been behind the scenes for many years, so a good percentage of people will have no idea who I am.” Well, we know at least 80,000 people who do.
Nordstrom Signature & Caroline Issa
Leather Jacket, $1,995
Wool-blend pants, $445
Wool top, $495