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Wasting time with Alison Loehnis

Alison Loehnis is a New Yorker who’s lived in London for, as she’s quantified it, “a lot of time.” She’s the president of the luxury and fashion division of YOOX NET-A-PORTER (Net-a-Porter, Mr. Porter, and the Outnet) and has been with the business for fourteen years – exactly fourteen the day I spoke with her! Timing is funny that way. In that fourteen years, she’s been at the forefront of the growth of YOOX NET-A-PORTER, running the business holistically; and when asked about which aspect of the business really energizes her, she rattled off “front-end, product, consumer, service, fashion, branding, creative, and…” In my head, I’m thinking, okay, this is every aspect of the business! She’s worn so many different hats throughout her time at YOOX NET-A-PORTER that it’s hard to imagine that she has any time to spare – or, dare I say, “waste” – at all. But Loehnis isn’t one of those high-functioning individuals who never turns off. In fact, the ability to unplug is a value she holds close to her heart.

I am not a procrastinator. If I need to do it, I do it. But then there will be times when I turn off the volume on my to-do list. You know, if it’s not urgent, you can put it aside. If I’m working on something, can I be distracted? Of course. I’m human. If I want to pause, or if I’m actively trying to distract myself, I love a bit of daydreaming.

Brynn Wallner: I’m talking to you on the 14th anniversary of your time at YOOX NET-A-PORTER! Crazy.

Alison Loehnis: I know, I know. It’s funny, I’m a person that doesn’t particularly sit still, so the notion of time resonates with me in a few aspects. I try to maximize time, and it feels almost like I’ve had many, many careers under one roof. It’s been great and it remains really fun and interesting – and some days it even feels like the beginning, if that makes sense.

Alison Loehnis takes a selfie with in her office for La Catena by Carolina Bucci

BW: It’s exciting to feel that after such a long time. Were you in London for the entirety of 2020? You know, the “quarantine” period?

AL: We were in London where I live for the most part, but for “Lockdown 1”, we decamped to the English countryside. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the country, but I’ve never lived there full time.

BW: And then you went back to London…

AL: Yes, we headed back and… I actually took my first Transatlantic flight in 18 months at the end of this past July, which was really special. I’ve been doing a bit of traveling since then, and I’m about to embark upon the fashion weeks, which I haven’t attended in person in so long – that should be great.

BW: So you’re going to New York first?

AL: Yeah, I’m going to New York in 2 days.

BW: And that’s where you grew up, right?

AL: Yeah, it’s wonderful. It was great to be there at the end of July/beginning of August. I hadn’t been there in a year and a half, so… I’m certainly not alone in being distanced from the places that are important to me. One of the many, sort of… realities… coming out of the pandemic – which, the pandemic isn’t over – but, this appreciation for things that we found a bit mundane before, or just took for granted, have taken on a new significance. I’m really very appreciative of travel.

Alison Loehnis in her office at Net A Porter London

BW: Well, speaking of the mundane… did you get any downtime when things shut down or were you still pretty busy? I know your business is online.

AL: I didn’t really get downtime. I looked with awe and respect at all the people who were like, I learned how to crochet while blindfolded while doing yoga! I was like, wow. For us, from a business perspective, there was an enormous amount to do – so on one hand, it was great because the addressable audience became that much bigger. But we also had to pivot in so many ways because we were a business that was primarily office-based. It was definitely busy, but I think that the way in which I went about things was a bit different. Because I wasn’t in an office physically surrounded by people all day, I had to question – how do you organize your time, your schedule? And for the first lockdown period, my literal view was different because I was outside of the city.

BW: How was it in the countryside? Did you get time to connect with nature?

AL: It was really great. That spring was beautiful. The weather was really wonderful, and there was something so magical about being there in March and seeing the spring arrive, which, in England, is just stunning. I would go running through the woods. We were there when all the lambs were born. And I was reading this book at the time – I love reading, primarily fiction. The book is called Overstory, which is essentially about trees and conservationism, but it’s tied into this really compelling narrative. Anyway, I was reading this book in a place that was surrounded by trees, so it was really special.

Alison Loehnis decamps to the english countryside for lockdown

BW: I heard that trees talk to each other?

AL: They do! They have a whole language. The book is based on scientific truth, but it’s not scientific. It’s fiction. It really changed the way I look at trees and nature.

BW: Do you have times when there’s nothing on your to-do list...or is that impossible?

AL: Listen, I like a list – so I’ve always got some kind of list going. But I think it’s important to unplug. I run at full throttle most of the time, but I really enjoy when there’s nothing to do, when I don’t have a specific obligation at a specific time. Putting aside the fact that I have to run a business… for me, the dream is when I’ve got a day with completely unfettered time.

BW: What is your idea of fun?

AL: My idea of fun is when… I can choose my own path, be a bit spontaneous, hang out with friends and family, off the clock. No having to do “this” at “that” time. Again, that notion of unfettered time is super important. I love to unwind. I can move at several speeds, and I’m quite happy to move at that speed when time allows.

BW: It’s all about balance.

AL: I try to fill my time with things that are, yes, constructive. Or enriching, let’s say. You go to the museum, the opera, the theatre… seeing your friends, socializing, letting your hair down and having a great time. But sometimes, for me, it’s not doing things. Being at home, pottering around. Doing stuff like, you know, organizing my closet, which brings me endless joy. I’m an organizer and I find it deeply satisfying to do so. Being able to potter around is a joy.

Lambs in the countryside
Alison Loehnis enjoying a walk in the countryside

BW: I love that. To potter is a joy. Do you procrastinate? It sounds like you don’t, but I could be wrong…

AL: I am not a procrastinator. If I need to do it, I do it. But then there will be times when I turn off the volume on my to-do list. You know, if it’s not urgent, you can put it aside. If I’m working on something, can I be distracted? Of course. I’m human. If I want to pause, or if I’m actively trying to distract myself, I love a bit of daydreaming. I mean, I will always look at fashion, which, luckily, converges with what I do for a living. Fashion will always be a welcome distraction, and, increasingly, interiors. We moved into a new house a year ago – it was a rather long project. But I’ve always loved interiors, and I’ve become slightly gaga over furniture and vintage. As with anyone else, I can get totally sucked down the rabbit hole of Pinterest or Instagram... although, I try to be disciplined.

BW: It’s hard out there… especially when, like you said, your career converges with what’s online. It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between what’s valuable and what’s a total “I’m in the black hole now” scenario.

AL: Let’s go with… most of it is valuable [laughs].

BW: You’re not wrong there! I mean, the origin of this concept – “Wasting Time With” – is that, one day, I was scrolling the internet mindlessly… You know, “wasting time”... and I stumbled upon a list of 13 Truths by the writer Ayesha A. Siddiqi. It told me to pay attention to the things I waste time on. And here we are!

AL: I think paying attention to what we waste time on is super important because every minute spent is a minute you’re not getting back. It’s a question of how you’re feeding yourself. What are you choosing to spend time on – beyond obligations, work? How does it make you feel? Do you feel satisfied? Enriched? Curious? Or is what you’re doing making you feel badly? You can waste time by staring at pictures of someone’s gorgeous kitchen… but that might not actually be a waste of time because you may just need a break, and if you’re visually stimulated? Cool! That’s great. But if you’re spending time on something that makes you feel bad…let’s carry on with the theme of the kitchen: if looking at someone else’s kitchen makes you feel bad about your kitchen, I think that’s a question of redirecting your energy.

BW: Definitely. It’s a fine line.

AL: And, look, I’m not for one second trying to come off like I’m perfect. I’m just as mobile-focused as everyone else. But during the beginning of lockdown, when I spent time in the countryside – although a lot of that time was spent indoors – but when I was able to get out and run, take walks with the trees and everything else around me, read a book... I think this whole idea of “looking up” became that much more important. Just don’t forget to look up! I remember traveling for work: you land in this foreign place and you’re in the car, just staring at your phone, and it’s like, woah woah woah. Look out the window! That is so important.

BW: It sounds so simple, but it’s actually a challenge. You have to really tell yourself to look up and look around you.

AL: And also during lockdown we got a puppy…

Alison Loehnis with her new puppy Tuppence

BW: Aww!!!

AL: I know. It makes me a walking cliche. But we were always planning on getting a dog! We were debating what kind, when are we gonna do it… and actually, we thought, you know, if we’re going to get a puppy, now might not be the worst time to do it. When we are all home and we can all get into the groove.

BW: It really was the perfect time to get a puppy. No shame.

AL: A newfound hobby during quarantine was dog walking. In that case, you’ve gotta be looking up. You’re out of your experience and you’re seeing things around you… When I walked the dog, I’d occasionally be listening to a podcast but sometimes I like to go out and have no noise.

BW: What’s the puppy’s name?

AL: Our puppy’s name is Tuppy – because his mother was called Penny, and so we named him Tuppence… it’s a British thing. But because of my American accent, everyone thinks he’s called “Tubby” [laughs].

Alison Loehnis walks her new puppy Tuppence

BW: What kind of dog is he?

AL: He’s a Norfolk Terrier.

BW: Oh, I’ll have to google that.

AL: Of course, I’m totally biased, but he’s very cute.

BW: So you have kids?

AL: I do. I have a son and a daughter.

BW: How old are they?

AL: My son is 14 and my daughter is 13.

Alison Loehnis' son plays with their new puppy Tuppence

BW: Aw, well that’s the perfect age to get a puppy – because they’re kind of old enough to take care of it… right?

AL: Kind of…… [laughs]. No, I’m joking, they’re great. Every parent who’s been begged to get a dog knows this – the kids are like, I promise I’ll walk the dog everyday! I’ll make him homemade dog food! I’ll do this, I’ll do that! And of course, the dog arrives and that is not the dialogue [laughs]. But it’s been wonderful! He’s been a wonderful addition to the family.

BW: That’s so nice to hear. It sounds like you had some great time with them.

AL: Yes. And the joy of free time, to me, is really just that. It’s being able to be a bit spontaneous, spending time with your family and friends, having really long sessions at a dinner table. Dream. I love it. Watching Netflix, reading endless amounts, just being able to go with the flow of things. Unfettered time! Dream!

BW: Well… I hope you get to find that dream again soon. Maybe after fashion week?

AL: Exactly. But I just got back from vacation, so I’m not complaining.

Alison Loehnis walking in the english countryside