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Net-a-Porter: The company that revolutionised luxury fashion turns 20

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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It’s hard to imagine twenty years ago marked the dawn of luxury e-commerce. Before the launch of Net-a-Porter in 2000 there was brick-and-mortar, multi brand retailers, department stores and brand-operated websites. There was no online destination that sold an exceptionally curated mix of high-end fashion until Net-a-Porter transformed the luxury landscape forever.

Founded in London by Natalie Massenet, a former editor at Tatler, Massenet began courting luxury brands as far back as 1999 to sell their collections online, many of which initially turned her down. At the start of the century chief executives of the major luxury houses were concerned online sales could harm their cachet, making their highly desirable products available to the masses on a Wild West marketplace. It wasn’t long before they were convinced. It was, of course, Massenet’s expert eye which filtered the best runway looks and must-have items in a way a merchandised shop floor could not. Receiving one’s order was akin to opening a gift.

Massenet understood the intrinsic importance of luxury packaging, and inspired by Chanel, and a concierge approach to service, Net-a-Porter’s neat black and white boxes, wrapped in generous bows and an ocean of tissue paper, set a new standard for online retailers. This is before YNAP, as the company is now known, was taken over by Richemont, merged with discount etailer Yoox and grew into the behemoth it is now.

Technology, executed in good taste

Back then, selling luxury online was revolutionary, but also risky. Massenet oversaw the site design, which was an extension of good taste that masked the tech behind it. The products were photographed on models instead of pack shots, and the content was more akin to a fashion magazine than mere product descriptions.

Since Net-a-Porter’s inception, the marketplace is full of luxury players. There’s FarFetch, MyTheresa, MatchesFashion and Browns just to name a few. Online sales grew double digits in 2019 and by 2025 will account for 30 percent of the luxury goods market, according to Bain.

Massenet exited the company when Richemont merged the company without her formal agreement, selling it to Yoox for 950 million pounds. She had, in fact, tried to buy the company back, valuing the business double than what it was sold for. Richemont rejected the buy-back, and continued the merger, installing Yoox CEO Federico Marchetti as the entity’s chief executive. It was eventually valued at 1.45 billion pounds, netting Massenet 200 million dollars, but despite putting on a brave face, she exited the company the following year.

Commenting on its twentieth anniversary, Net-a-Porter president Alison Loehnis said in a statement. “We take the greatest pride and satisfaction in serving a community of incredible women from all over the globe. Delivering excitement, joy and the very best fashion in the world to your doors is what drives and inspires us. It is that connection that counts. You’re the ones we have in our minds and are the ones we want to impress: it’s the reason we come to work, and what makes us want to exceed expectations again and again.”

Images via Net-a-Porter

Natalie Massenet