The Long View | Lucy Yeomans Says It’s Time to Change the Rules of Fashion Media

Net-a-Porter editor-in-chief Lucy Yeomans talks to BoF about 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.

Lucy Yeomans | Source: Net-a-Porter

How are you measuring success?

It’s a new venture and we’re all trying to work out what’s important. But obviously it’s a mixture. I think it’s really important that we bring new people to the site, maybe people who wouldn’t have gone on it before. And for us, we can track through research, our 7000 women keep diaries for us about what they do when and what device they’re on and what they’re reading when – and they don’t really distinguish between Vogue.com and Net-a-Porter. It’s all inspiration for them. And I think this is just an exciting way for them to come to Net-a-Porter and it doesn’t matter if they don’t buy something – it’s about the fact that they’ve come. Obviously, it’s wonderful when they buy something and they’ve done the whole journey: the inspiration, the seduction, the service, the solutions and then they actually have the product.

The interesting thing is, we have over 5 million women on the site every month and the vast majority of people are just coming to look and enjoy and browse. Of course, you can shop from it, but it’s a destination. Previously the magazine had to do everything. Now we’ve got a whole section that’s about what’s new and now; we call it “Chic, Hot and Here” and if Gianvito Rossi has just arrived, let’s just say that, or if the first drop of Saint Laurent arrives, let’s say that. We don’t need to work it into a magazine story. They have complementary purposes.

Before, we were very product-focused and now we’ve actually got the voice of the woman coming through. I think we’ve really started much more of a conversation.

You spent many years in a world that, at least in theory, adheres to the principles of ‘church and state,’ a division between the advertising and editorial sides of a media business. Now, the internet has broken down those walls and commerce and content are freely coming together in new ways. Is ‘church and state’ an obsolete concept?

To be a good editor you have to have an eye on the business side of things. I totally believe in having that editorial integrity. And, as with editorial in relation to advertising, I don’t think it’s any different in relation to retail. From the Net-a-Porter standpoint, I’m shooting stock for the magazine, so I’m absolutely shooting what we have bought.

But if my relationship with the buyer is really fantastic, which it is, then I believe in that by as well. At the shows my fashion director and I are giving our editorial picks, and those go through to the buying team, so it’s really 360. Yes, you are working with a piece of the buy, but I can honestly say that I feel like I’ve had more freedom to shoot what ever I want since I’ve been here.

Many traditional magazine publishers are struggling, yet you are planning to launch a print product. Why launch a physical magazine in such a crowded and difficult market?

I think the reason we really want to do it is our women love print. It’s an experience. I love technology. I have four iPads, one iPad mini and two iPhones. But at the same time, I really love print and I think there’s something incredibly luxurious about it. And for me, it goes back to the women. They buy four or five magazines per month and they often buy them in languages they don’t even read because they want that point of view — because different magazine brands in different countries have quite different manifestations. I don’t see this as something that’s competing with Vogue, Elle, Bazaar. This is something that is very targeted.

Net-a-Porter does the shopping element so well. Having something interesting to read is just another element to the proposition and print allows us to go deeper into that. The main point is inspiration.

Let’s talk tempo. Online, The Edit is published weekly, while the forthcoming print magazine is set to come out 4-6 times a year. Why did you decide on this rhythm?

On the digital side, lots of people were like “Why aren’t you just doing everything that’s new?” A lot of the magazine websites do news. And the fact is, we could do news, but we’ve chosen not to. I think the internet is like buying a really, really fast expensive car. It doesn’t mean you have to drive it at 130 miles per hour all the time. I love the fact that the online magazine is weekly. It’s curated. It’s really just about thinking how people want to digest things. We have the ability to puree everything, so it’s most easily digestible, but sometimes you want to sit and enjoy a nice meal and take your leisure. And with the internet there’s the tendency to do everything all fast and new. And maybe we can do things differently. We’ve worked it out so there’s an area of the site that does change every day if we need it too, but I quite like that the online magazine provides a lovely moment to stop and experience. It’s a different tempo within the site: it’s weekly, it’s considered, it’s curated, it’s not reactive, it’s putting something together with a real point of view.

As far as the print magazine, I love the idea of giving the woman a really strong message for each of the main seasons. I think there’s clarity in that. And then we’re playing with the pre-collections for the third issue of each season. I think the pre-collections are really interesting. They are more and more important for the brands in terms of sales – and actually there’s some real jewels in there and they’re great for individual style because they maybe aren’t as well-known or referenced as a lot of the big runway looks.

Both the online and print products are set to be published in French, German and Mandarin, as well as English, and I want to talk about globalisation and your approach to localised content.

My views on globalisation have changed completely since I came to Net-a-Porter. At first, I thought that it was essential that we do lots of local content. I think there will certainly be elements of local content, but, again, talking to my friend in our personal shopping department, that fashion forward woman in Shanghai wants the same dress as the fashion forward woman in Dallas. It’s wonderful being published from London. But we are published from London for the world. We need to be sure that we are referencing all cultures. Our woman wants to know what’s happening in Shanghai and Paris and Washington. Everything we do needs to have local elements, but still have interesting international appeal.

If you were to look into the future, what do you think fashion magazines will look like in five years time?

I think it’s a really hard question to answer because technology is moving so fast. But when it comes to our woman, I think we’ll be able to look after her better. We’ll be more bespoke in the way that we service her needs and work out what she wants to be inspired by.

Personalisation?

Yes, bespoke content. But people also love curation. So I still think a point of view is really important. It’s the reason we love going to the Tate Modern, for example. But I think with the right technology — and I think Net-a-Porter is absolutely the place that will have access to that cutting-edge technology and all that important information — we’ll be able to look after that woman better.

We are able to do a lot of geo-targeting now. If it’s sunny where you are, sandals come up. But I imagine in five years time, you’ll be able to arrive in a freezing city and be delivered your perfect astrakhan coat at your hotel. It’s amazing what this little device [iPhone] can do. The borders that once were absolutely aren’t there anymore and the global nature of our business will enable us to respond.

In five years, will every magazine be a retailer? Will consumers look at a magazine that’s not shopable and think it’s broken?

I think so. I think the magazines with pages laden with product absolutely need to be shopable. One hundred percent. Otherwise you’re just not delivering service. It would be like going to [grocery app] Ocado and having a look and then having to go to the supermarket. They have to be shopable. But I think there’s still a place for inspiration. There’s still an area of entertainment. People still love books and photography and art exhibitions. It’s lovely that there’s still an appetite for great content and great stories and we’ll play to that while having shopable elements.