natalie massenet's guide to getting ahead in digital
Both digital daydreamer and digital doer, Natalie Massenet MBE is the tech-temptress who brought luxury shopping to the waiting fingertips of the masses and continues to skilfully surf the world wide web of today and tomorrow.
Whilst working under one of fashion's great creatives and consumers, the much-missed Isabella Blow, Natalie was drawn to the excitement around early e-commerce. Seeing opportunity through the eyes of a consumer, she launched Net-A-Porter in 2000. A heady cocktail of beautiful product display, silver screen service and alluring editorial, she seduced the industry. Named Chairman of the British Fashion Council in September 2012, she now informs and inspires the capital's creatives whilst helping to turn talent into thriving industry. If there's anyone to inspire tomorrow's future tech talents, it's her.
1. You don't have to know what HTML and CSS are to be tech-savvy.
"Ultimately, Net-a-Porter is a technology company. We were built online, selling product around the world. While we employ about 450 people in the tech teams, I would say everyone that works here - we're almost 3000 people - is a tech user in their daily life. It's a huge part of who we are but we don't expect everyone to be able to code. I can't code. As a consumer and as somebody who's online and using digital devices all the time, I know what I expect and that's what guides me."
2. Gossip and eavesdrop at dinner parties.
"Keeping up with digital trends can be tricky because it's developing at the speed of light. Now, everyone seems to talks about their favourite app or digital find at dinner parties. It's true! I read a lot, I have news alerts, I follow everything and see what everybody does. There's a sense that any day now, something's going to radically change and they're going to invent some sort of internet by osmosis and when that happens I want to be ready."
3. The internet is not a big, scary beast...
"It was the dark days of dial-up when I started out as a journalist. We had a computer in the corner of our office at Tatler and everyone used to see the internet as some big, scary beast. It's amazing how quickly it's been adopted. The fashion industry is embracing technology now but in 2000 when I was going around talking about selling clothes online it was a different time, even the consumer didn't know that they wanted it yet."
4. ...but you still need to make sure you don't get swallowed up by it.
"We had to protect brand value and prestige and that feeling of luxury. I think brands were very worried that something that was so accessible to the masses, something that had no barriers and wasn't necessarily inherently designed in a beautiful way, would be very damaging to them. The first thing we did was really look at trying to replicate the way brands were marketing themselves offline and try to make everything we did as beautiful as it could be, from the moment people logged on right through to delivery."
5. If you're not up to date with the newest technology it's instant death!
"I think the most surprising thing has been the speed at which technology is being adopted and how ubiquitous it becomes. You can be left in the dust…"
6. 3D printing is the future of fashion.
"Right now, the ability for consumers to customise what they want before printing in their own homes is something we're looking at. We're not there yet in terms of being able to offer something that is the dream but there are some very exciting projects that are being developed in that space. I think the concept of consumers being able to have what they want, when they want it and to connect directly to fashion brands is one of the most exciting things that's about to happen."
7. Immerse yourself in the mobile experience too.
"The fact that 30-50% of our sales are now coming from mobile and we're an entire company that has been built around the desktop experience even though we've been pioneering in mobile."
8. Know that the digi-age want instant gratification.
"Fashion shows used to be trade events but the consumer has been led in through the front door digitally for the last ten years. They're right there alongside the trade watching the shows, getting inspired and wanting to shop. You'd never see a tech launch where somebody comes along and says, 'here's the new, exciting tech gadget and you can have it in six months'. I think we need to acknowledge that it's a consumer event and then that's when the product needs to be hitting the stores."
9. Become a social (media) butterfly.
"I've been encouraging the designers to embrace social media. They're using the fact that they can communicate directly to consumers. I urged them to create visual moments, visual fingerprints of their brand that could travel digitally and amplify their message beyond fashion weeks. Ultimately, if the consumer gets excited about our London brands, that puts pressure on the industry, both stores and magazines. Technology speaks to creative people. It's a means of broadcasting and telling your story and if you're a designer or a brand that's a very exciting thing to do."
10. Be innovative: make a mini-dress that can keep you warm, a T-shirt that can clean itself or an invisibility cloak!
"I'm really hoping that some cool things come out over the next few years. It's important that it's not just gimmicky but actually useful. I think you're going to see the fashion industry being called upon to really look at what people will wear; we're not there yet. Smart fabric technology that can alter to your whim and fancy. A beautiful little slip dress from Valentino could have a built-in warming mechanism, so that when I don't want to wear a coat to a party I can still be warm, maybe in shoes as well, that would be great. Intelligence as well that's connected to your mirror and tells you this dress is a little bit tight, maybe time to go up another size and then is connected to your favourite retailer who can then say, 'oh, we understand you're looking for the next size up Miss Massenet, ha!"
Text Steve Salter
Photography Natalie Massenet