The spirit of one woman helped revolutionise the e-tail industry Featured

Natalie Massenet - the game changer

by 02 October 2013

Net-a-Porter was the game changer in on-line shopping taking the industry into unchartered and challenging waters. The plan was simple: to give women exactly what they wanted. In fact, Natalie Massenet, founder and executive chairman of Net-a-Porter, had the remarkable ability to understand people’s needs before they knew themselves and it was her impeccable taste that was at the heart of her business success. A business that propelled fashion fans and designers into a new era of luxury consumption.
From the start, Natalie Massenet approached the business as a magazine editor. She wanted to create a magazine online format, where readers could buy clothes directly.

Natalie Massenet started Net-a-Porter in 2000 around a kitchen table at her Chelsea studio flat where she worked with two other employees. Her idea was simple and practical: she wanted to provide an excellent service, but with a simple thing in mind: she wanted to make people's lives easier. She came up with the idea of providing luxury designer fashion and kid-glove treatment at a click of a button. She realised that there was a very small number of women who had a Fendi or Dolce & Gabbana store around the corner from where they lived. Realising that customers were wary of buying clothes they hadn't touched or tried on, Natalie Massenet made sure that the online experience was as enjoyable and informative as possible. It was also important that clients could easily send back what they had purchased, if they didn’t like it. Especially when those clothes had designer price tags.
Delivery times would also be an important issue, so clothes were delivered within 48 hours wrapped in vast amounts of tissue paper, in beautiful, black boxes and embellished gift bags.

Possessing good instincts, excellent networking skills, a huge amount of experience as a fashion editor and a long list of prestigious contacts, the original team of three around the kitchen table grew to more than 1,000 employees working in London and New York. But she probably owes most of her success to her ex investment banker husband Arnaud Massenet, who helped her propel the business to what it is today.

Two years ago, Net-a-Porter was sold to luxury conglomerate Richemont for £350 million. Massenet earned in excess of £50 million for her 18% share of the site, but still retains her position as Executive chairman of the company. Natalie Massenet started her business in June 2000 with about £1.2 million and the business turned over more than £120 million in 2010. She was awarded her MBE in 2009 for services to the fashion industry, and was named Harper's Bazaar Innovator of the Year in 2010, the year that Net-a-Porter celebrated its 10th birthday and acquired its millionth customer.

Since then, it has launched a website for men, Mr. Porter, Netbook, a new mobile app, to create a social network for fashion-minded people who will share their favourite products from the luxury e-tailer, and in February 2014, Net-a-Porter is set to launch a new consumer magazine under the name Porter, which will focus on women’s luxury fashion and be published six times a year. Pages will be transactional via mobile phone and magazine app.

Natalie Massenet is currently chairman of the British Fashion Council.