LONDON — Sojin Lee, formerly of Net-a-porter.com, and Simon Fuller, the British music impresario and investor behind Roland Mouret and David and Victoria Beckham’s women’s collections, are ready to spin the concept of fashion-as-entertainment into an online business.
This story first appeared in the March 11, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Later this year, the duo will launch Fashionair, a Web site that aims to offer an insider’s view of the industry’s personalities, latest news, styling secrets and hottest closets. The new site, which is like a fashion magazine come to life on screen, will not sell any merchandise. Instead, it will promote styles, trends and brands — and hopes to drive user traffic to more than 500 e-tailers worldwide.
“The storytelling opportunities in fashion are immense and endless, as are the opportunities to engage with customers, create an emotional connection with them, and court them with a content-led site,” said Lee during an interview at Fuller’s 19 Entertainment Ltd. headquarters here.
“What we’re doing is creating a brand, and the Web site is just the beginning,” said Lee, who believes Fashionair is the first of its kind. “It’s a TV-like experience, but it’s not fashion TV. And it doesn’t have the traditional layout of a fashion Web site.”
Fuller said in a separate interview the new site will offer the brands a “new and engaging way to advertise in this ever-changing world.” He added he believes fashion is at the epicenter of popular culture and is teeming with creativity. “I want to be surrounded by this creative energy as I am thinking about new forms of entertainment, and looking at how formats and ideas impact into the mass market,” he said.
All of the site’s content will be original, and most of it will be shot in a dedicated, in-house TV studio at 19 Entertainment in London. Fashionair, which will be refreshed daily and run a show schedule just like a TV channel, is aiming to capture a target audience of 25- to 44-year-old women in a variety of ways. Lee said she sees a potential audience of around 22 million.
The site will feature a weekly, live news and pop culture show with content ranging from top industry stories to concert reviews to the latest bestsellers at Topshop; one-on-one interviews with industry figures such as makeup artist Val Garland; Sophia Neophitou, editor of 10 Magazine, and photographer Ellen von Unwerth, and segments where designers and celebrities such as Anna Sui and Thakoon Panichgul open their homes and closets.
There is also a styling program, where hosts, including Yasmin Sewell a fashion consultant for the London store Liberty, and Tracey Ross, founder of the once-famed Los Angeles boutique that’s now closed, will show viewers how to wear the latest trends. Meanwhile, viewers will have the chance to submit their personal video “style diaries” in a feature known as “7 Days of Chic.”
Alongside most of these segments, the site will showcase pictures and details of the merchandise being discussed, and suggest where viewers can purchase it. “When we can show the exact product, we will. If we can’t — in the case where someone is describing a market or vintage find — we’ll get as close as possible,” said Lee. “And we’ll also be offering higher- and lower-priced options.”
Viewers will also be able to create their own personal fashion files and mood boards, with clippings and inspirations from the site, and create wish and birthday lists.
Fashionair is a joint venture between Lee and Fuller, and comes under the fashion division of Fuller’s 19 Entertaniment Ltd. Other businesses in that division include Roland Mouret’s 19RM; David and Victoria Beckham’s DVB brand, and Claudia Schiffer’s global representation.
Fashionair’s revenue stream will come from a variety of sources. Lee and Fuller are currently hammering out affiliate deals with e-tailers, and Lee said there are also “sponsorship and partnership opportunities” with brands, magazines and larger portals. She said the site will carry advertising, but she’s aiming for “an integrated experience,” such as shop-in-shops or pop-up shops, with the aim of driving consumer traffic.
Although 19 Entertainment would not reveal start-up costs, the project is clearly on solid footing. Fuller ranks 184 on the Sunday Times of London’s annual rich list, with a net worth of 450 million pounds, or $630 million at current exchange, mainly driven by the success of “Pop Idol” and his string of number-one hits for the likes of the Spice Girls and Kylie Minogue. Last year, revenue at 19 Entertainment — which is just one of his businesses — rose 16 percent to $223.6 million and operating profit rose 49 percent to $75.1 million. All figures are reported in dollars as 19 is a division of CKX Inc., which is quoted on Nasdaq.
The Korea-born Lee, who was raised in Los Angeles, worked on the business side for brands including Chanel and Bottega Veneta before moving to London in 2001. She was head of retail and buying at Net-a-porter, and had worked very closely with the site’s founder and chairman Natalie Massenet before leaving in 2007.
Asked about the challenges of launching during a recession, Lee was upbeat.
“On some levels, this climate is to our advantage, because there is an element of escapism and emotion to the site. Maybe people are quietly shopping, maybe they’re fantasizing and making wish lists,” she said. “Now is the time to build relationships. Even if consumers are not buying now, they’ll be back in a few years’ time.”