For any IT-literate fashion lover, there is one shopping website guaranteed to be top of their browser favourites. Over the past nine years, net-a-porter.com has established itself as the web destination for designer fashion, rivalling Bond Street for choice of high-end labels and impeccable customer service, and bringing the luxury retail experience to anyone with an internet connection. The only barrier – and, for most of us, a pretty insurmountable one – is the sometimes eye-watering price tags.
So, for those forced to content themselves with scrolling wistfully through the glossy pages of seasonal must-haves, the launch of net-a-porter's sister site, theOutnet.com, will come as a welcome addition.
Launched last month, although still in its early stages, the site will offer pieces from all of the brands on net-a-porter.com, plus a few more, but – and this is the exciting bit – at hefty discounts of up to 80 per cent. A Moschino trench coat (£239, down from £1,194), a strapless ombre cocktail dress by Alberta Ferretti (£546 from £1,821) and a pair of sequinned Miu Miu pumps (£137.20 from £343) are just some of the items that whipped cyber shoppers into a mouse-clicking frenzy when the site went live.
Not surprisingly, the clothes on the site are from past seasons, so it's not the place for snapping up the most of-the-moment styles. But what separates it from a straightforward seasonal sale, are the constant flow of desirable pieces that will arrive weekly on the site and the same rigorous selection of stock that has secured the cachet of net-a-porter.com. This is a chance to pick up high-quality classics at knock-down prices, not the rag bag of sartorial dregs that is all too often the reality of a high-street sale.
Net-a-porter for the credit-crunched generation then? Natalie Massenet, the founder of both sites and the woman credited with revolutionising internet fashion-shopping, says the idea was taking shape long before the economy hit the rocks: "The launch is timely, but it isn't a reaction to the economic climate. In fact, we had been thinking about launching a dedicated outlet store for quite a while. Although the core net-a-porter business isn't price-sensitive, we found our sale section would attract a different kind of customer – someone just as passionate about fashion, but who didn't place as much emphasis on owning the must-have of the moment. TheOutnet is an opportunity for us to create a dedicated destination for her."
Stephanie Phair, who has overseen the development of the new site, says that, in the same way that net-a-porter brought about a seismic shift in the attitude of luxury brands towards internet retailing, theOutnet will deliver a change in views on discounted shopping – already seen in the willingness of such exclusive brands as Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Chloé to come on board.
"Brands used to think of the discount sector only in physical terms, existing in outlets miles from cities, disconnected from the main retail experience," explains Phair. "Online shopping has changed that – brands now understand that the secondary discount market supports their primary business. If somebody buys a marked-down top that they love from a previous season, the chances are that they might later buy something new-season from that brand if they can."
Given net-a-porter paved the way for a new wave of slick fashion e-tailers, from my-wardrobe.com to the celeb-led ASOS, this new merging of high end and low price is a favourable omen for the choice and value on offer in the not-too-distant future. Below are 10 of Massenet and Phair's current theOutnet favourites.
For information: www.theOutnet.com