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Men’s Wear CEO Summit: Introducing Mr Porter

It looks as though Net-a-Porter's new men's wear Web site is going to be a popular guy.

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Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 03/31/2011

Mr Porter is only five weeks old and already it looks as though he’s going to be a popular guy.

This story first appeared in the March 31, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Web site — which like its older sister Net-a-Porter serves up e-commerce with editorial savvy — has already taken orders from more than 77 countries, selling 1,000 pairs of shoes, a leather jacket for 3,245 pounds, or more than $5,000 at current exchange, and more. The site carries dozens of brands, from Acne and Burberry to Viktor & Rolf and Yves Saint Laurent. So far, its top customer has spent nearly $35,000 on 80 pieces from 26 different brands, including Band of Outsiders, Gucci and Jil Sander.

Not bad, considering Natalie Massenet, chairman and founder of Net-a-Porter Group, didn’t want to get into men’s. She wanted to make a Web site for kids. But the Net-a-Porter customer said she wanted to share the shopping experience with the man in her life, and Massenet saw an opening.

“We didn’t see the merger of content and commerce that we have done on Net-a-Porter, and we didn’t see anyone doing the depth and breadth and attacking it globally,” said Massenet of Net-a-Porter, which is owned by luxury titan Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.

But finding Net-a-Porter’s Y chromosome was a delicate business.

“You want the same things that you already have, and that was tricky,” she said. “How do you sell new things to people who wants the old things? So we had to wrap wet towels around our heads and say, ‘OK, we gotta sell stuff to these guys.’ ”

To help figure it all out, Massenet brought the editor of British Esquire, Jeremy Langmead, on board in October. He is editor in chief of Mr Porter, a title that highlights the editorial bent of the commerce site, which pays tribute to style icons such as Paul Newman and Bob Dylan and offers features such as five ways to wear a raincoat as it sells luxe brands at full price.

Langmead, it turns out, is quite the student of men’s sartorial conundrums.

“We dress to impress our peers,” he said of men. “We’re a competitive beast. We want to look good, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

That’s the nature part.

The nurture part is where Langmead said men have run into their fashion troubles — particularly guys who were raised by parents who did everything they could to thwart convention.

“The Baby Boomers achieved much, but they left a generation of men uneducated about the basic rules of dressing,” he said. “You can only break rules when you know what they are in the first place, which I think goes some way to explaining the curiosity of many today who want to look to the past to build or possibly even break with the tradition they’ve discovered there.”

And the next generation didn’t fare much better, having been raised by fathers who dressed like Boy George or lived in baggy sweatpants or ill-fitting suits. In some cases, dads have kept up with the latest styles, but that’s just another type of fashion problem for the younger generation — but one that might play into hands of the tailored clothing industry.

“Their children, they’ve grown up horrified, horrified, to discover that their parents either look like hell or that they look like they [themselves] do,” Langmead said. “Nobody wants to dress like their dad, even if their dad looks good. How can you rebel against your parents when they’re wearing the same skinny jeans and hooded top that you are? It’s not easy.”

For those who choose to rebel in wing tips and tailored suits, Mr Porter is there to help.

But helping men plumb the depths of their possible wardrobe is expensive when it means hiring writers and other editorial staff. In the question-and-answer session, one executive wanted to know how Massenet balanced the costs of creating the Web site’s content with the larger business.

“It’s our light fixtures,” she said of the content. “It’s our staff, it’s the carpeting that you would put into a room, because it’s digital and you have to have content. Retailers need to be content players and content players need to be retailers. The two have merged.”