Fashion Star: Natalie Massenet

A Q&A with the founder of Net-a-Porter

Fashion Star: Natalie Massenet

Image Courtesy of Net-a-Porter

If you’ve ever gone shoe shopping at 3 a.m. or bought a party frock from the comfort of your pyjamas, you—and the four million other women who log on to and sister site The Outnet every month—have Natalie Massenet to thank. As the founder of the London-based company, the first online global-designer fashion emporium of its kind, she dared to believe that women craved a new way to shop. Since launching her business in 2000, this former Tatler editor has revolutionized e-commerce, beating the recent recession along the way. Last year she sold her business to Swiss luxury group Richemont for more than $500 million, while remaining executive chair- woman. With an eye for spotting new design talent, this fashion innovator knows what we’ll want next.

What should FLARE readers know about Net-a-Porter?
“We carry roughly 400 brands, many of which are exclusive to us online and internationally, so whether one resides in Toronto or Saskatchewan, we are proud to offer an unparalleled selection of products and brands anywhere.”

Like Victoria Beckham, Tory Burch and Jenna Lyons, your image is synonymous with your brand. Why is that important?
“In the beginning, we used all the marketing assets we could to promote the brand, so whether it was the buying team, the editorial team or myself, we all did significant amounts of press. As an online business it is important that people see we are a human brand with people who really love fashion.”

Since you began your business, what has been the biggest change you’ve witnessed in the world of online fashion?
“Ten years ago, there were no fashion labels available on the internet. I started the business because I couldn’t find any of the brands I loved to buy. The dynamic has completely reversed now. Whereas at the beginning I had to work hard to convince 30 designers to take a chance and allow us to sell their luxury product online, now for many of the 400 lines we carry, we are their biggest account!”

How do you feel about the increased presence of bloggers?
“Perhaps because I feel like they are my compatriots, I have always been convinced that bloggers would eventually have a place at the table with the more established media. They represent an independent, important point of view of the consumer—the most critical voice of all. However, like with print media, it has taken time for the best bloggers to emerge. We work with the very best [who form] a significant new part of our global team.”

What online fashion sites do you feel are most influential?
“There are quite a few style blogs I like, but I would say the street photographers like Garance Dore´ and Scott Schuman have turned the fashion industry on its head. Instead of us reading magazines to see what we should be wearing, magazines are looking online and putting these images, and looks inspired by them, in their issues.”

What has been Net-a-Porter’s greatest achievement thus far?
“Celebrating our 10th anniversary was a real highlight, as at the beginning there were so many who were confident we wouldn’t last a day. I’m also excited to [have just launched] Mr. Porter, our menswear site.”

With an increasing number of designers turning to online forums to sell their collections, do you think bricks and mortar retail will become obsolete?
“I don’t think they will ever be extinct. As much as I love to shop online, I also love walking the streets on a beautiful day and seeing what finds I can discover in a small shop or vintage store. But I cannot do this nearly as much as I would like, which is why shop- ping on the internet is so appealing.”

What does luxury mean to you and your company?
“The biggest luxury I have allowed myself as of late is to turn off all my devices for the weekend and retreat to my cottage. For Net-A-Porter and its customers, luxury means exceptional service, 24-7—wherever they are, whenever they have time.”