Dollar Fashion Business
In less than two decades, pioneering e-tailer and multimedia brand Net-a-Porter has become perhaps as powerful in the fashion industry as Vogue. The company’s multibillion dollar success story has catapulted founder Natalie Massenet to Wintourian status, earning her a spot on Time’s 100 Most Influential People List, a Woman of the Year award from Glamour Magazine, and a Damehood from the Order of the British Empire.
Determined, confident and always impeccably dressed, Massanet is the epitome of the modern girl boss—a citizen of the world who leads with a positive, upbeat attitude. Launching from her London apartment in the wake of the dot-com bust, she grew the Net-a-Porter Group into a 1.5 billion dollar business before selling to Italian firm Yoox in 2015.
Natalie waked away from the merger with a cool £100M, setting off in search of her next adventure and vowing to remain a loyal Net-a-Porter customer. In the years since, she’s been traveling the world, spending time with family, hosting political fundraisers and continuing to serve as the Chair of the British Fashion Council.
Meanwhile, the fashion industry waits with baited breath to see what Natalie will do next. Looking back, we wondered: What has made Net-a-Porter such a phenomenal success? What did Natalie Massenet do right? Below, a breakdown of the visionary entrepreneur’s recipe for success.
“Success begins at that magical moment when you declare to yourself, your friends and the universe that you believe you can do something different.”
Natalie was styling a shoot for Pamela Blow, the legendary editor of London-based Tatler Magazine, when she got the idea for Net-a-Porter. Looking for designer pieces in the era of dial-up, it struck her that the options were severely lacking. She thought—shopping for high-end clothes online should feel more like flipping through the pages of your favorite glossy. She envisioned a masterful edit of the best ready-to-wear from around the world, with gorgeous photography that demonstrated fit, details, movement and wearability.
“My personal ambition remains the same—to be creative, to be modern, to stay one step ahead, to enjoy life.”
Today Net-a-Porter is by far the largest and most important luxury fashion destination on the web, with the Yoox Net-a-Porter group dominating an impressive piece of the online shopping market. Always the innovator, Massenet expanded into multiple hit verticals like Mr. Porter, the first global luxury men’s e-tailer, and the Outnet, hands down the best place online for discounted designer clothes. Then in 2014, she surprised everyone with the launch of her instantly iconic bi-monthly print magazine, Porter.
“Having the positive belief that it will all be okay just means that you hustle and make it work because failure is not even an option in your mind.”
Most people told Natalie her idea would never work. The dot-com era was over and nobody bought clothes online—they needed to be tried on. Nonetheless, she secured funds from a small group of investors, including Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo, and persisted with $1.2 million in capital. In 1999, that wouldn’t go far to build a robust e-commerce platform, so Natalie started lean. She hired a handful of people, had her website built, and filled her London apartment with Net-a-Porter’s iconic black-ribboned boxes, fulfilling orders from her kitchen table.
“The Net-a-Porter group is not just a retail company, it’s a media company.”
Natalie Massenet understood that content is queen before almost anyone. And while she began in the digital space, she knew that as a multimedia brand, she needed to be everywhere: on social media, in your inbox, in the press and in print. A true standout on the chicest of coffee tables, Porter is the only global luxury edit on the shelves. The stunning large-format glossy has been received as a much-needed breath of fresh air, moving the high-fashion conversation towards wearability and helping women feel confident in their look every single day.
“I LIVE BY THE maxim that you only get one chance to make a great first impression.”
From the get-go and through every expansion, Natalie has shown an impeccable commitment for starting strong. Even back when budgets were tight, her investment in presentation and service matched the level of luxury in the clothing she sold. Take the company’s chic packaging, coveted from day-one and delivering each order like a gift. Later, with the launch of Porter Magazine, Natalie kept production completely under wraps until the moment of release, ensuring the thoughtfully-crafted book debuted on a high note.
“Our customer doesn’t have a geographic split. She’s a citizen of the world.”
Perhaps because of her own global background, which includes a childhood in Paris, college in LA, a brief stint in Madrid and a year modeling in Tokyo, Natalie had the vision to make Net-a-Porter global in reach. Worldwide distribution was in fact, one of the reasons she was able to convince reluctant designers to sell on her site early on. Meanwhile, the jet set perspective means Net-a-Porter resonates with the successful, modern woman whose life takes her from London to New York to Ibiza and back.
“I believe we must never fall in love with the way we are doing things, but we must always focus on what our customers want.”
Belonging to a rapidly-changing era, Natalie has never resisted a new evolution of technology or trends. From buying to marketing, the company has relied on feedback and in-depth analytics to enhance the Net-a-Porter experience, from the brand’s sleek and swift iPad app, to its shoppable social media network, the Net Set. Ever the fashion editor, staying ahead of the curve is key to how Natalie has risen to such a prominent level of influence in the fashion industry, which now hustles to keep up with her.
“A shared purpose and a positive attitude is an unstoppable force.”
Any Net-a-Porter team member will tell you, company culture has always been one of Natalie Massenet’s strong suits. She designed her epic London offices to be the epitome of a twenty-first century workspace, with a wide-open plan encouraging communication and transparency (and her fabulous bimonthly margarita parties). A former sorority girl at UCLA, Massenet was known for her warm, inspiring leadership, approachability and flair for making work fun. On her way out, she famously told staff to: “Be the best, lead, exceed expectations, be smart and stylish, and still service others,” creating the acronym “BLESS.”