LONDON — Net-a-porter’s woman has finally met her man.
In January, the online fashion retailer will unveil Mr Porter, a stand-alone Web site with a global reach aimed at the affluent, time-pressed and style-hungry man. Mr Porter will offer clothing, shoes, accessories and style advice, and feature a mix of 60 brands, including Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Dunhill, Margaret Howell, Mr. by Roland Mouret and John Lobb.
“We’ve wanted to do this for years but never felt it was the right time,” said Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-porter and its executive chairman. “This idea did not come from a bunch of people sitting in a boardroom looking at a spreadsheet. It was our customers, our target market, that was asking for this.”
The launch comes on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Net-a-porter, which in April was purchased by Compagnie Financière Richemont in a deal valuing the company at 350 million pounds, or $511 million at current exchange. Net-a-porter is now part of a group that also owns brands like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chloé, Dunhill, Montblanc and IWC. Richemont confirmed earlier this week that it had completed the purchase of Net-a-porter Ltd. and now holds more than 93 percent of the issued ordinary capital of the online retailer, with the remaining seven percent held by Massenet and other shareholders.
Net-a-porter will today begin a recruitment drive for a team of experts to address the men’s market, according to Massenet. About 35 positions are set to be filled in the first hiring wave at Mr Porter.
Speaking in a telephone interview from South Africa, where she was taking part in a Richemont meeting, Massenet said she and some of the Net-a-porter team will attend the spring 2011 men’s shows in Milan and Paris, and that they will all be heavily involved in the new site.
“The team will hit as many shows as possible. Our brand relationships are enormously important, and we plan to feature editorial content on the site. At Mr Porter, we’ll be telling a story just like we do on Net-a-porter,” she said.
Men’s is the company’s second stand-alone business after the Outnet, the off-price site for end-of-season women’s wear that launched in April 2009.
Asked whether more stand-alone sites — such as children’s wear and beauty — were in the pipeline, Massenet said, “We want to focus on men’s wear now. We’ve talked about doing a children’s space, but we want to do it properly.” The company already owns the domain names Petit-a-porter and Net-a-Beaute.
Although Massenet declined to reveal first-year sales projections for Mr Porter, she said, “If we do the job right, it will be a meaningful business.” Sales at Net-a-porter were roughly 120 million pounds, or $175 million, in the year ending Jan. 31.
Massenet, who plans to tap into Net-a-porter’s database of 3 million unique users in 170 countries, said she hopes that someday the men’s business could be as large as the women’s one. Men’s generally makes up less than 20 percent of a traditional department store’s overall business.
“Most men don’t like shopping,” Massenet said, adding the new site would have the same service culture and features as Net-a-porter, with round-the-clock ordering, same-day delivery in London and Manhattan and 24- to 48-hour delivery in the rest of the world.
The biggest markets are expected to be the U.S. and the U.K., followed by Germany and the Far East, she said.
The online men’s wear market in Great Britain is currently valued at 1 billion pounds, or $1.46 billion, according to Kantar Worldpanel Fashion, the global agency that tracks consumer spending habits and behavior. Over the past year, 12.2 million people have bought men’s wear online, up 25 percent on the previous year, although women’s wear is currently growing faster than men’s wear online, according to Kantar.
And while Mr Porter will share the same commercial ethos and back-office operations as its sister company, the customer-facing elements will be entirely different. The packaging will be black-on-white and personalized. Depending on the brand and customer, the label on the packaging will say, for example, “Ralph Lauren trousers for Mr. Jones.” The company also plans to use its new branding for a separate fleet of delivery vans and motorcycles for same-day deliveries.
The merchandise edit will be rigorous. “There aren’t 75 blue shirts to wade through — there will be four or five,” said Alison Loehnis, vice president of sales and marketing at Net-a-porter, in a separate interview at the company’s new headquarters at Westfield London. “And we won’t be slavishly following the catwalk. We are aiming to dress an ageless, international, modern, classic man. Among our inspirations are ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ and Alain Delon,” she added.
Loehnis said there would be a cross-platform offer from Day One, including apps for the iPad, iPhone and other mobile devices. Although she declined to provide details, Loehnis said the site’s functionality and special services would make for speedy shopping and gift buying.
Asked about competitors, Loehnis named saksfifthavenue.com, barneys.com and neimanmarcus.com, in addition to niche, focused and regional Web sites in the U.K. and the U.S. Saks ships internationally; however, Barneys does not, and Neiman Marcus requires customers to call a separate number to request delivery at an international shipping address.
“We see this as one-stop shop for men,” said Loehnis, adding the only men’s merchandise the site will not be selling is fragrance.