Playboy vet Aaron Duncan on the birth of his online platform for luxury fashion by both new and established designers


Although Playboy is regularly associated with a “less is more” approach to fashion, its former Global Licensing Senior Vice President and Creative Director, Aaron Duncan, has proven otherwise with his virtual marketplace for luxury fashion and accessories, wonderMode. Born out of a desire to enable lesser-known designers to sell their original work to the public, the e-commerce site features high-end, curated fashion and accessories from all over the world.

We spoke with Duncan and co-founder Matteo Sardi about how wonderMode is at the Style Frontier.

How do you feel your experience at Playboy prepared you for your work with wM?

I started as an Assistant buyer at Saks in women’s contemporary
sportswear; then designed menswear at J Crew, headed up a design team in Hong Kong for fast fashion retailer G2000 Apparel. I was at Playboy for ten years…which gave me insights into building and expanding a brand globally—something I am passionate about. I was also exposed to the media and online business and saw how all these entities could be leveraged to work together in order give the customer a better experience and of course sell products and services. Going back to school to attend NYU Stern’s executive MBA helped me recognize these skills, which gave me the confidence to jump into the start-up world.


What’s the motivation behind wonderMode?

I was hanging out with some recent Parson’s graduates who were complaining that department stores would not take risks with new labels and that there was no alternative cool or contemporary platform online where they could sell their products. I had just been exposed to a lot of start-up cases and it made me think about how I could leverage my successful track record with my love of fashion, technology and youth culture.

I realized I could possibly solve their problem as I have been a buyer, designer and brand builder and understood the tools and support designers needed. We wanted it to be a high end proposition to showcase brands you’ve probably never heard of. The ultimate goal was to create a marketplace for designers, so that they could focus on their products while we handled the sales and promotions.

How do you select the designers you feature?

We are passionate about design, quality and customer experience and therefore our merchandiser and board of advisors vet all applicants. One aspect is that we want to make sure that the designers would be reliable to make their product and that they have the means to manufacture and ship their goods. All of them are at different stages in their business; some are right out of school, while others are more established. There are some people out there who have design talent, but not the talent to grow their business. That’s where we come in.

The other aspect is that the designer meets our requirements: The products have to be seasonally right and contemporary in nature. Once they’re approved, they get their own personalized URL and shop, as well as the ability to sell in our main store.


There are a lot of other e-commerce fashion sites. What sets wonderMode apart?

Our main job is sales and marketing to help designers grow their business and get exposure. We provide a real microsite for them that’s customizable. They can link their shop to their own website. This gives them the support they need so they don’t have to worry about things like credit card transactions, shipping labels and packing slips. They even have wonderMode boxes they can use to ship their product. In essence, wonderMode is really geared towards helping to brand and build a business.

Another element is the original content featured on the site. We give our designers exposure through Facebook, Twitter, interviews, and our site’s “most loved” tab. We especially use Facebook for giveaways and promotions so that designers can share content with their friends. In this way, we provide a marketing vehicle for them without costing much.


Can you think of any particularly notable success stories the site has facilitated?

WonderMode is fast becoming a great brand marketing platform for labs. The Ryan Jordan case is a good example of how we have not only picked him for wonderMode, but how his designs have been promoted—particularly how he was worn by Lady Gaga. We also have a student section called the “The Graduates”, which we are planning to expand in the fall with different schools. In addition, quite a few of our designers have had phone calls from New York showrooms who saw designers on our website. Our site also makes a good fit for people who sell in boutique stores around the world and are still looking for other venues.

Visit wonderMode’s site to access to their international designers and rack up a wish-list of items for purchase with their “my LOVES” virtual closet. For help navigating the products, search by category or designer, or check out the editor’s picks marked with catchy and descriptive labels according to style categories.