Some people in the fashion world reeled on Wednesday evening at reports that Natalie Massenet, founder and chair of the original fashion ecommerce website, Net-a-Porter, was stepping down from her company. Others were expecting it once the news of the merger with Yoox was announced. By Thursday the reports had been confirmed, and Natalie herself had explained to Vogue that it was the “right time” to move on.
The news was even more surprising as it came a day after Asos announced that its founder and CEO Nick Robertson would be stepping down from his role and joining the company’s board. Like Nick, Natalie is a true innovator. I wrote last week that personal shopping site Thread.com is potentially the future of luxury ecommerce, but the fact that such a business is even viable is down to Natalie. Natalie founded Net-a-Porter in 2000, at a time when ecommerce was still in its infancy – eBay had been going for five years at that point, Amazon only a year longer – and luxury ecommerce seemed like an impossibility. To this day, Chanel and Celine do not have transactional websites.
Natalie, so ahead of the curve, realised that a website where the average spend is over €400 could be a reality. She also very clearly understood the crucial link between fashion and the media. Net-a-Porter very quickly became known not just for its products but also for its editorial content. Again, more forward thinking than most, Natalie realised that people were keen to buy the looks they saw in magazines and online, so it made sense to make its publications as ‘shoppable’ as possible. This line of innovation went up a gear last week with the launch of the Net-a-Porter app, entitled Net Set. The app, which had already been available on an invite-only basis, is as much a social network as it is an ecommerce venture – hence the name. Users will be able to create a profile to share their signature looks, whilst also interacting with influencers and brands directly.
The idea that editorial content can drive sales has since been adopted by many other fashion businesses, perhaps most notably Condé Nast, which is investing significant sums of money into Style.com to turn it into an ecommerce powerhouse. That Natalie was a few years ahead of the publishers of Vogue gives some idea to how visionary her ideas have been. She loves to tell the story that she applied for a job at Vogue and got rejected, so she started Net-a-Porter! 13 years later, she sold part of the business to Richemont for £350m.
Natalie’s impact on the world of luxury fashion was properly recognised in 2013 – she did, after all, completely change the way we shop – when she was appointed chair of the British Fashion Council, and it’s a position that has played to her ambitious nature. She has turned the BFC into an organisation that mirrors her. Given her declaration to Vogue that her “entrepreneurial drive is as strong today as it always has been,” like everyone, we await to see what comes next. No doubt it will be something ground-breaking and brilliant.
Can Net-a-Porter be the same without Natalie? Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org and have a lovely weekend!