July 24, 2010 12:25 am

The launch of Mr Porter

Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter, is banking on her experience as she prepares for the January debut of Mr Porter, billed as the first luxury men’s wear online retailer with a global reach. “It was important to us that our men’s wear business, when it came along, be not just a tab within Net-a-Porter but that it occupied its own space and world,” says Massenet, whose stable of some 60 launch brands includes Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Lanvin, Balmain and Dunhill.

The online men’s wear market in the UK, which Massenet expects to be Mr Porter’s biggest audience outside the US, grew by 13 per cent last year and is currently valued at £1bn, or $1.46bn, according to Kantar Worldpanel, the global agency that tracks consumer spending habits. Over the past year, 12.2m people have bought men’s wear online in Britain, up 25 per cent from the previous year.

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Mr Porter’s competition comes in the form of men’s wear sites such as www.oki-ni.com, which stocks such labels as Alexander McQueen, Levi’s Vintage Clothing and Mismo bags (£545); Paris-based www.studiohomme.com, which stocks Alexis Mabille, Pierre Hardy, and Pringle of Scotland; and www.thecorner.com, www.yoox.com’s successful sister brand.

All three websites have made ease of navigation a priority. Ben Banks, chief executive of Oki-ni, says: “Men shop much more rationally, and online shopping really works for this. It allows for products to be assessed in a very unfiltered, clean and logical way.” Sébastien Roubaud, co-founder of Studio Homme, concurs. “Men usually like to shop anonymously and do not like sales assistants, so the internet is perfect for that,” he says. Federico Marchetti, chief executive of Yoox and The Corner, says: “Quality of service coupled with entertainment are important shopping benchmarks for men.”

Mr Porter will also come up against established luxury brands who are focusing efforts on enhancing their online offering. Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s chief executive officer, says: “Digital marketing is having the greatest impact on the business and we know that it will continue to drive brand momentum. Guys have very different buying habits depending on where they are from and in some countries they actually prefer to shop online. Last month, the men’s wear show in Milan was livestreamed to hundreds of thousands of people. Once the show was over they could click and buy the styles straight off the runway, getting them delivered in just over a month.”

Natalie Massenet believes Mr Porter will distinguish itself by its focused product offering and by harking back to gentlemanly roots. “Net-a-Porter offers catwalk fashion and trend-driven shopping, but for Mr Porter, while fashion is still important, style is key,” she says. “We are never going to run out of blue or white shirts, but we will have them from seven or eight of the best shirt brands in the world, rather than from 100 different places.”

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