January 12, 2014 11:46:35 pm
She evokes genuflection from designers and has pop stars for friends. Now the founder of online luxury retailer Net-a-Porter, Natalie Massenet, is moving to print.
When Natalie Massenet ascended the stairs of the Carnegie Hall stage in New York recently to accept a Woman of the Year trophy from Glamour magazine, she outdid Jennifer Lawrence at the 2013 Oscars ceremony, nearly tripping on her Alessandra Rich white lace gown (soon available for upward of $3,000 at Net-a-Porter, the online luxury retailer she founded).
Time froze. The honoree swayed. Gasps filled the audience, as presenters struggled to disentangle Massenet from her dress.
“Death by stiletto,” she joked limply after reaching the podium.
It was a rare awkward moment for a woman who has evolved from scrappy Internet pioneer, peddling designer clothes out of a small apartment in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood, to consolidating a power of unusual breadth over the fashion industry.
In 2010, Massenet sold a majority stake in Net-a-Porter to the Swiss holding company Richemont, remaining executive chairman; her brand extensions include the Outnet, a discount site, and Mr Porter for men, all winging their wares to customers within days, sometimes hours, via branded black vans. A year ago, she was appointed chairwoman of the British Fashion Council.
And while publications like Glamour, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar turn cartwheels trying to figure out new media, this month the hyper-wired Massenet, 48, is expected to oversee the introduction of Porter: a magazine to be sold on newsstands.
“It’s a big beast,” said its editor, Lucy Yeomans, formerly of Harper’s Bazaar UK, promising “lots of journalism” and 50 pages of features.
“Here you have a woman who created something that didn’t exist,” says Roopal Patel, a fashion consultant who formerly worked for Moda Operandi, fondly recalling Net-a-Porter’s unexpectedly rapid delivery of a one-shouldered red Acme dress for a wedding.
The Net-a-Porter group employs almost 3,000 people who work in London, New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai as well as less glamorous centres on the outskirts of the cities, where items are shrouded in plastic, plucked by robotic arms and rolled down conveyor belts before landing at wrapping stations.
Christened Natalie Rooney, Massenet was an only child. Her parents split, and she went to live with her father in Los Angeles, coveting Ditto jeans in a rainbow of colours and plastic shoes.
Her first job was at GHQ, a small men’s clothing store in Los Angeles. She gave a male colleague rides to work, where they would listen to cassette recordings of songs he had written. “He was like, ‘I’m going to be a star’, and I was like: ‘That’s great!,” Massenet says dryly. He was Lenny Kravitz.
During a year spent modelling in Tokyo, she met pop singer Bryan Adams, who is now a good friend, and Elvis Costello.
She moved to Women’s Wear Daily and then Tatler, where she worked with the great eccentric Isabella Blow as well as Yeomans, who says: “I thought of her as super smart, super sassy.”
In 1997, Natalie wed Arnaud Massenet, an investment banker; the marriage lasted 15 years and produced two daughters, Isabella, 14, and Ava, almost 8. Tamara Mellon, a founder of Jimmy Choo and an investor in Massenet’s site, describes high-spirited barbecues with their children.
Indeed, despite a mild, accessible manner and a prolific presence on Instagram, Massenet’s mere presence produces genuflection from designers. This was evident backstage at the Alexander McQueen men’s show in London, and at a Net-a-party, attended by talents such as Vera Wang and Erdem.
“It’s a continuation of our service,” she says of the forthcoming magazine. “We’re going to create something completely new there… In the same way that you have to have a Facebook and an Instagram account and have a website, you also need to be in print.”
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