LONDON, United Kingdom — Natalie Massenet has often described fashion e-commerce site Net-a-Porter as a “fashion magazine of the future,” where editorial content and commerce converge, offering consumers a seamless path from inspiration to purchase. So far, this vision has mostly taken the shape of a shopable editorial layer that sits atop the site’s tightly curated product selection, providing shoppers with a point of view on the current season.
Now, under the guidance of former Harper’s Bazaar (UK) editor-in-chief Lucy Yeomans — one of the highest profile editors to join a recent wave of departures from traditional fashion publishers to brands and retailers — Net-a-Porter has set its sights on building a full-scale media business to complement its curated e-commerce model, allowing the company to attract a larger audience and monetise the relationship through advertising as well as transactions.
Indeed, just last week, after announcing the formation of a new media division, Net-a-Porter set into motion the first phase of a revamped editorial strategy led by Yeomans, re-launching its weekly online magazine and debuting a 104-page one-off print issue, said to be a precursor to a yet unnamed 300-page glossy magazine that will launch in the autumn and be published 4-6 times a year. Both the print and digital products will carry advertising from a mix of brands (including those not stocked by Net-a-Porter’s retail arm) and will be published in French, German and Mandarin, as well as English.
BoF sat down with Yeomans in a corner library at Net-a-Porter’s vast headquarters to discuss her decision to leave Harper’s Bazaar, blending commerce and content, her vision for Net-a-Porter’s new editorial presence, separation of church and state, the global fashion consumer and building the fashion magazine of the future.
There’s been a veritable exodus of top talent from traditional fashion publishers to brands and retailers. Why did you decide to leave Harper’s Bazaar?
I’d been there for twelve years and had an incredible time taking the magazine from Harpers and Queen to Harper’s Bazaar. But I felt that it was really time for a change. Natalie [Massenet] and I were both in the fashion cupboard at Tatler at one point in our lives and we’d often talk about what the future could bring. We always said, “Let’s see if we can work together and create a global magazine.”
I think brands like Bazaar, Elle, Vogue — they are incredible brands, they have this amazing heritage and they have such a resonance with the consumer. But I saw this as an opportunity to change the rules a bit. The traditional publishing world has so many boundaries. But the internet changes that completely. Nobody else sees boundaries anymore. I think it’s so incredible because you can reach this global audience. Net-a-Porter’s demographic is quite targeted in each country, but globally it’s huge. On top of that, everyone is trying to work out ways to link publishing and e-commerce and this is a very exciting place to do that.
Is the old model dead?
I think you have to look after your woman. If you look after her, everything else makes sense. And the generation that’s coming up, it’s more and more, “We want service, we expect service.” If you want a book, you want to download it onto your Kindle or iPad immediately. We are impatient now. And I think it’s wonderful when you can both see something and have it.
Natalie Massenet has always described Net-a-Porter as a fashion magazine for the future. But unlike traditional magazines, Net-a-Porter monetises its audience through transactions as well as advertising. How has this changed your job as an editor?
The things that are constant are storytelling, seduction and service. You can’t just make a catalogue, because a catalogue is boring. And another really important constant is a point of view; a sense of curation. It can’t be just what products are new on the site this week. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve themed the weekly issues. You are creating a dream. And wonderfully on Net-a-Porter that dream is actually actionable. But a magazine is entertainment. You have to remember to entertain and inspire, as well as provide solutions.
As for differences, when you are editing a magazine a lot of that is instinct. But what’s interesting here is that instinct can be backed up by a lot of data. One of my favourite people in the business is our head of personal shopping, because she is talking to our woman every single day. It’s amazing seeing their feedback and their data. We also have an incredible research panel. I think it’s like 7,000 women. These are dedicated Net-a-Porter customers who have agreed to answer all our questions. When I sit in those meetings, I’m like “Oh my God, if I was sitting in a publishing house and had this kind of information….” It’s incredible. When you do a focus group at a traditional magazine, when you are at Vogue or Bazaar, it’s very hard to have that kind of dialogue with your reader.
What is your vision for Net-a-Porter’s new editorial presence? How are you changing things?
I think the perfect magazine has elements you can shop from, it has elements you can just be inspired from, and it has amazing features. We really believe in having people just come and be entertained.
But if I had just come in and put the magazine up and not looked at the rest of the homepage experience, that would have been the wrong thing to do. We still have all those shopable areas on the homepage, but now we’ve got something extra and I absolutely want to make it editorial. I want to make it as good as a really strong magazine experience, because that’s what our woman is used to.
I don’t know whether we’ve actually talked about this in the press before, but we will [also] feature brands we don’t stock. I don’t think you can give a view of the season and I don’t think you have editorial integrity otherwise. You can’t cover Asian influences without talking about Prada. You can’t do geometry without talking about [Louis] Vuitton. We have to make sure we are looking after the woman first. Not everything will be shopable via Net-a-Porter, but we’ll make sure her path to buy those things is as easy as possible. All I want to do is make her life as easy as possible.