BoF Exclusive | Natalie Massenet on the backstory behind Mr Porter

Natalie Massenet 10 June 2010

Natalie Massenet in her Net-a-Porter 'living room' 10 June 2010 | Source: BoF

LONDON, United Kingdom —”I’m more excited about this than anything we’ve ever done,” says Natalie Massenet about the new Mr Porter menswear shopping destination announced to the fashion world today in Women’s Wear Daily.

Just when some might have thought she was on cruise control after Richemont stepped in to acquire the majority of the Net-a-Porter business, fashion blogosphere, twittersphere and watercooler conversations were once again fixated on this remarkable woman who — lucky for us — is also our special guest for the next BoF Live Fashion Pioneers event which is already close to selling out only three days after it was announced.

As we settled into her ‘living room’ in the brand new Net-a-Porter headquarters to discuss Mr Porter — 10 years to the day since the launch of Net-a-Porter at 9pm on 10 June 2000 — bouquets of flowers were arriving from friends, colleagues and partners to congratulate Massenet on yet another big announcement.

But only BoF has the backstory on how the idea for Mr Porter was born, where the brand name came from, and who’ll be scouting the men’s shows with her this season to suss out the Spring/Summer 2011 collections.

Oh, and by the way it’s pronounced Mr Port-ER, not Mr Port-AY — a perfect masculine British riff on the feminine French Net-a-Porter. It’s no wonder that this backstory begins with a brand name.

On how they came up with Mr Porter…

“Mr Porter came to us from the boys at the Saturday Group. They sat us down and said: ‘We want a men’s Net-a-Porter….and we’ve got the brand for it.’ We weren’t going to do men’s for another two years, but we had this group of guys in front of us saying ‘Please we want this, and by the way here’s the brand.’

And then, when we met Mr Porter, we could see it, we could feel it. It immediately came to life..the graphics behind the brand, the packaging. In the same way that when we found the brand Net-a-Porter, it set the whole brand in place and the tone and what it had to be. They gave us the best gift.

On how they kept Mr Porter under wraps…

For sometime not even my husband knew about the name. Whilst The Board as a whole had discussed the business plan we had not revealed the name. We wanted to keep it under wraps because when we launched the OutNet, I very naively told an entire lunch full of bloggers, a year in advance, that we were going to do it. And while I was very happy to give them a scoop, it did all sorts of things in terms of putting pressure on us about what we had to deliver and it also alerted our competitors to what we were doing.

This time, we wanted to make sure the first people to find out about this were the brands. We’ve had one buyer quietly sitting beside my desk for the past few months. I think everyone thought she was part of the translation team, but she was quietly doing some buying appointments.

On the market opportunity…

We’ve spent the last ten years luring women away from shops and trying to make something that’s a better mousetrap for the consumer. But with men, they’ve already expressed the fact that they don’t like shopping as a concept. They don’t like to do it.

Typically — with the exception of some really great stores like Bergdorf Goodman, which has created a temple for a man — whether it’s on a website or in a physical store, the men’s shopping experience is marginalised or is a sub-category of the woman’s shopping. We’re going to change that.

On how men and women differ when it comes to shopping…

We’ve spent the last few months thinking about how men are going to want to shop and what makes them tick.

We are in no way going to say ‘here’s Net-a Porter, slide it over and put a different skin on it.’ We are starting from scratch: the navigation process, how and when and how frequently they are going to want to shop, what are their influences, inspirations and motivators for shopping, the service they are going to want and expect, what will make their lives easier. Everything.

On whether there will be a Mr Porter magazine…

We are a content and commerce business model. It’s a hybrid. So of course we are going to carry on with that, but the content is going to be what the male reader wants to read. You’re not going to see shopping off the runway. For us it’s about a global, edited, content-meets-commerce men’s style destination.

On the size ranges to be offered…

Yes, we’ll offer XS, but how about XXXL? Some of the most powerful, influential, fantastic, sexy men I know come in XXXL sizes. They are larger than life!

On who’s going to be at the men’s show’s this season to suss out the collections

I’m going to the shows! I’m not going to Pitti, but will be in Milan with our menswear buyer and Erik Torstensson of Saturday who is joining me as consulting Creative Director for Mr. Porter. But, we’re also looking for feedback from customers on what brands they want to see on our Facebook page. It’s our way of crowdsourcing the buying process. We want everyone’s input.

Tickets for Fashion Pioneers with Natalie Massenet are selling like hotcakes. We’ll be discussing Mr. Porter, of course, but also the future of online fashion retail and publishing and the amazing story of the growth of Net-a-Porter. Get your tickets here now.

Editors note: This interview was updated on 8 May, 2011 to better reflect the context of the interview with Ms. Massenet

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  1. Is there nothing Natalie Massenet cannot do. She is such a wonderful inspiration to women, she deserves every success.

    Leelee from Kingston Upon Hull, Kingston upon Hull, United Kingdom
  2. Women shop to feel confident, arousal, fulfillment, purpose, actualisation…whatever you want categorise it as. Men shop to impress, whether it’s for girls/boys or position, dominance and prosperity.

    I detest pretentious slants on these kinds of operations, especially when they’re a good couple years behind Luisaviaroma, ‘the corner’, Seven…even Antonioli. Not forgetting oki-ni.

    I’m not expecting fireworks from a sole female buyer…unless you’re dressing to take your yacht from Cannes to Barca…

    moi from Westerham, Kent, United Kingdom