Q&A: Sena Wakabayashi Shares Her Tricks Of The Trade
I first met Sena nearly five years ago. Back then, she was based in Tokyo and consulting on a digital project for a fashion brand in Hong Kong. She regularly showed up at the office in avant-garde looks from Comme des Garçons and boots from Noritaka Tatehana (if the name doesn’t ring a bell, his clients include Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness, just to name a few).
We became fast friends and bonded over the usual topics—where to get the best manicures and find the best shopping spots. Fast forward to the summer of 2017, where Sena has quietly become a go-to personal stylist for some of the city's elite. We caught up with the style maven this month to get a glimpse of how she got started in fashion, and how she shops for her clients.
How did you get started in fashion?
I started with a series of internships in New York before I really started working, which all began at a boutique in Tokyo called Restir. It's not the same as what it used to be, but it was a really special retail experience, and one of the most innovative boutiques of its time.
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My experience at Restir taught me to really think about the customer—from what their needs and wants were, and also about tailoring an experience just for them. This boutique stressed a very personalised shopping experience so it wasn’t just about exclusive or desirable products, but the in-store experience of curating a wardrobe.
You started SW last year; what led you to start your own personal styling brand?
Perhaps it's because I began my career at such a boutique retailer, I will always have a love and loyalty to a good physical retail experience. I also am hyper aware of everything online that is useful, convenient, and cheaper, and all of the things that threaten the traditional retail store.
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As a result of this competition, retail stores became a bit dull overall—focusing on surviving by competing and catching up with the threat of online capabilities. Somewhere along the line, I felt that stores forgot about their unique value of having a physical space where they can interact with their customers and with their products.
So, my inspiration was really born from my personal longing for a special and exciting retail experience again. I decided to combine the best of both online and offline. Everything is hand-picked from retailers online and from all over the world, brought to your home as a beautifully packaged and hassle free experience that feels like your very own at home boutique.
What’s a typical service you provide? What do you find your HK clients coming to you for the most?
All of my services begin with an initial consultation where I get to know the client and their objectives. Then most typically, we will begin with a wardrobe check and edit, where I get to know the clients existing wardrobe and preferences. We will then begin a purge of the items they no longer need, followed by an edit of select items to begin making looks using items they already own.
I am not an advocate of buying new items to solve your style problems. I think a lot of it begins with looking at what you like, already own, and how you style yourself and work from there.
There are also some clients that work with me exclusively on the personal shopping side—this is another type of clientele who is looking for a better shopping experience. Better in that they have everything tailor selected for them, it is coming from online retailers as well so it is price competitive and convenient, and most importantly, it is a fun and exciting way to shop in the comfort of your own home.
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Any style tips you always give your clients?
Define your own style and stay true to yourself.
What’s a shopping secret of yours you can share with us?
A secret of mine is to avoid shopping as a function. I find it really boring and challenging if I'm like “Alright, I need to find a dress,” and head to a store or start looking online. I think if you can, shopping when you feel inspired and in the mood is best, and try to avoid treating it as a chore. It always helps to get into the mood by browsing through a physical store as well.
Where do you find yourself shopping the most?
For myself, I still tend to shop in stores, especially when I travel. I love the discovery experience of shopping and I am quite impulsive! For me, I don't mind the price differences.
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If I find something in the moment and it is inspired, I want it more than ever and it must come home with me then and there. But when it comes to my clients, I will always strive to find what they love at the best prices, and usually it’s a lot of digging online.
You also have clients that ask you to organise and assess their wardrobes, what do you recommend they throw, keep or store?
As a general policy, I feel that if you have outgrown a phase of your life, and there are items in your wardrobe that reflect that time and style, it is probably best to move on. Unless they are items that have real sentimental value that you want to keep forever.
A lot of times, clients are ready to move on from many items that actually can be styled with a fresh eye, that can bring an entirely new life to those pieces and become relevant to their lives again.
Lastly, as a new mother of two, how do you think your own style has changed post-baby?
I think the fundamentals of my style have not changed, but I definitely have a new dimension to my lifestyle that my wardrobe has evolved to accommodate. My lifestyle has some new additions to the daily flow of things, so as a result, I am shifting between a greater variety of things—from taking the kids to playgroups, to meeting a client in their home, to playing tennis, then heading to a dinner out.
So I suppose my looks are quite versatile. My style has never been occasion specific—I would wear things from my day into the night and wear what some would consider evening wear, in the day. So from that perspective, how I dress has not changed, but I can definitely say my Noritaka boots have been hidden on the shelves for a bit too long lately!