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A Passion for Fashion

Mandana Dayani on the Runway Track to Success

USC College alumna Mandana Dayani ’03 is director of brand development for Rachel Zoe Inc. in Los Angeles. Photo credit Phil Channing.
USC College alumna Mandana Dayani ’03 is director of brand development for Rachel Zoe Inc. in Los Angeles. Photo credit Phil Channing.

Brainy and beautiful, the elegant and edgy Mandana Dayani ’03 could pass for a high-fashion runway model.

So many dream of casting a wide net in the fashion industry with hopes of creating the ever elusive perfect mystique — a glamorous and glitzy magic — but few ever make it. Dayani is an exception.

The devil is in the exquisite details and all aspects of her career and fashion style are choreographed to perfection.

Fashion is serious business to Dayani. “It’s a ubiquitous passion and art for me,” she said, noting that it is far more than being an obsessive shopper.

“Industry leaders such as Balenciaga, Tom Ford, and Lagerfield — these artists are my celebrities.”

While drafting legal documents in her Los Angeles office in 2008, Dayani took equal turns leafing through the pages of major fashion magazines. Fascinated by the law as a real estate attorney for Paul Hastings, she enjoyed representing her clients in the hospitality, resorts, restaurants and recreation industries.

“But what I really wanted was to apply my knowledge and experience in branding and the law to a career that would integrate my artistic side,” Dayani said. “I also wanted to be able to dress creatively at work to express my personality and articulate my appreciation for fashion.”

With entrepreneurial spirit, Dayani contacted as many people as possible to find the best outlet for her creative talent and business acumen. Over coffee with a commercial talent agent, she learned of niche opportunities in the fashion business that led her to a meeting and an extraordinary career opportunity with stylist, editor and fashion designer Rachel Zoe.

“I had always looked up to Rachel as one of my idols and admired her brand and its incredible potential, which made getting my dream job that much more special,” she said.

Now director of brand development for Rachel Zoe Inc. in Los Angeles, Dayani took part in the successful January 2011 launch in New York of a new line of clothing, handbags and shoes before a group of important editors and retailers.

“I worked closely with Rachel and Rodger and our partners, Li & Fung, to assemble our New York team in the development of the brand and its assets,” she explained.

Today, the Rachel Zoe product line can be found in high-end department and specialty stores.

Dayani describes the Rachel Zoe brand as aspirational yet always accessible and glamorous, taking customers from day to evening.

“Rachel’s brand is defined by her aesthetic and passion for glamour, beauty and lifestyle,” she said.

Working closely with Zoe and Zoe’s husband and business partner, Rodger Berman, the creative trio develops three, five and ten-year business strategy plans as they expand into other licenses and build out the brand into other lifestyle categories.

“Change in the fashion world is fast and furious,” Dayani pointed out, “but a solid brand such as Rachel Zoe is not trend-focused and remains true to its distinctive DNA.

“The brand and all of its assets are defined by Rachel Zoe’s taste, lifestyle and knowledge of fashion,” she said.

Interested in pre-law and initially drawn to international affairs when she arrived at USC, Dayani majored in political science. “Two professors of political science, Eliz Sanasarian and Mark Kann, profoundly influenced and transformed my life,” she said.

“Professor Sanasarian made me believe that I could achieve whatever I wanted,” she said. “She gave me the respect and confidence that helped me to become the person I am today.”

The admiration is clearly mutual. Sanasarian describes Dayani as unique and her unconventionality is what she saw as her strength. “Mandana was bright, hardworking and unusual, and one of the only two undergraduates that I have ever allowed to register in a graduate seminar,” Sanasarian said. “She was a junior at the time yet she worked on par with others, and graduate students ended up following her lead!” 

Dayani went on to earn her law degree from USC Gould School of Law.

Dayani is married to Peter Traugott, president of the television division of Brillstein Entertainment Partners, a Los Angeles production and artist management company.

“My husband is incredibly supportive of my work, and he also is dedicated to a career he loves,” she continued.

The couple helped found the World Child Project (WCP), a non-profit partnership in service of the most vulnerable among us: orphaned and abandoned children.

“WCP volunteers include many of our friends and colleagues,” Dayani explained. “Leaders in the arts, business, education, medicine and service give in areas of their expertise and passion.” This includes time and monetary investment in Mexico’s Casa de Paz Orphanage where greenhouses were built to produce a revenue stream in addition to meaningful work experience and training for young adults living at the orphanage.

Despite a busy schedule of work and volunteerism, Dayani still makes time for relaxation and fun.

When not dressed to the nines or spending time with her close-knit family, she might be found clad in sweats and UGG boots watching Twilight at Zoe’s house and eating takeout.

Dayani said she is exactly where she wants to be both personally and professionally.

In Hollywood, a town where image and perception are everything, it’s refreshing to see substance and compassion behind the beauty.


Read more articles from USC Dornsife Magazine's Spring/Summer 2011 issue