Natalie Massenet, founder of the luxury online retailer Net-a-porter, has left the building

Alexander Fury wonders what's in store for one of fashion's pioneers
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Stop all the clocks. Cut off the telephone. Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone. Disconnect your wi-fi. In a fashion week of marked losses – the website style.com shuttering, Givenchy opening the doors of its forthcoming New York debut show to the public (RIP fashion exclusivity), the loss that has registered loudest is the surprise departure of Natalie Massenet from Net-a-porter, the website she founded 15 years ago that helped define luxury online shopping.

Surprise is perhaps the wrong word. Since news of the merger of Net-a-porter with Yoox, to create the world's largest online luxury retailer (with annual combined turnover of almost £1bn), a question mark has hung over Massenet's role. Federico Marchetti, currently CEO of Yoox, was confirmed as continuing in his role – solo – overseeing the entire group when the merger completes (expected next month). Massenet's proposed position was executive chairman. Now Massenet will be, in her own words, only "a continuing loyal customer".

Massenet is bowing down from a company not only founded in her flat (where she reputedly helped package up early orders in the lavishly beribboned boxes that have become a Net-a-porter signature) but very much fashioned in her image. Massenet, a polished 50 year old, snappily dressed and impeccably coiffed, was perceived as an embodiment of her well-heeled customer base – average income £170,000, annual clothing spend £22,000, 11 holidays a year. In that spirit, Massenet celebrated her 50th, back in May, in Portofino. She documented it heavily on Instagram – her handle is @nataporter. How's that for living the brand?

Nevertheless, in fashion, leaving your namesake is nothing new: earlier this year, Donna Karan stepped down from her company, the latest example in a list of living talents that includes Roberto Cavalli (now headed by Peter Dundas), Martin Margiela (whose Maison Margiela is now run by John Galliano) and Givenchy (now Riccardo Tisci).

There's something about Nat leaving net, though, that seems especially acrimonious – from raised hackles at the company's initial valuation (just shy of £1bn, later revalued to £1.5bn), to the confusion over her rapid departure (rumoured on Wednesday afternoon, confirmed by evening, refined, sanded-down and polished into press release perfection before 8am yesterday). Massenet reputedly made £100m by leaving Net-a-porter; however, cutting those ties has left many a loose thread.

Where, for instance, does it leave Porter, the glossy magazine the company enthusiastically launched in 2014 and which Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, once sniped sounded like "a grand Sainsbury's magazine"? Or the company's newest project, the Net Set, an iPhone app that fuses shopping and social media, triggered, in part, by mobile sales accounting for 40 per cent of all purchases on Net-a-porter.

Many sniffed when Massenet first launched Net-a-porter back in 2000, assuming that fashion brands wouldn't want to sell their goods online, and that consumers wouldn't want to buy. They were wrong. Others have sneered at the notion of the Net Set. Launched in May, it's too early to ascertain its failure or success. Nevertheless, it's an interesting experiment, harnessing three areas of special interest for luxury: mobile technology, social media, and online sales. The aforementioned shuttering of style.com, for instance, is due to a re-positioning of the site by Conde Nast from catwalk reportage to fashion e-commerce. Porter seems old fashioned, by comparison – but the idea of footnoting each page with a call to "See it, scan it, shop it" seems a portent of publishing to come. Net, and Nat, got there first. That's why it's interesting to see where she will be going next.µ

Comments