Imagine a one-stop online shop for all men’s fashion needs… James Collard meets the team behind Mr Porter
We’re in the Net-a-Porter offices in Westfield, the shopping mall in West London, where the team from the new Mr Porter website are all suited and booted for their photoshoot. Looking on with almost maternal pride at just how well her boys scrub up is Net-a-Porter’s founder, the fashion journalist turned e-commerce tycoon Natalie Massenet.
For Massenet, Mr Porter represents a bold but logical next step: extending to menswear Net-a-Porter’s winning fashion retail formula, which has seen Massenet’s tiny start-up grow into the impressive operation we see today, delivering fashion and accessories to women in 170 countries. Back in the day, Massenet and her two co-workers would shout, “Kerching!” when they made a sale. These days, the business is worth about £350 million (Massenet herself a cool £50 million, after the Richemont group bought a majority stake in the company) and a large computer screen tots up each sale. It’s 10am and someone in New Haven, Connecticut, just bought a YSL ring, while the day’s running total already shows more than £200,000 in sales. Below the screen, banks of fashionable-looking young people toil away quietly, supported by some slightly less chic techie types on the mezzanine.
For Jeremy Langmead, joining Mr Porter and moving into digital retail is also a bold but logical next step. He had been pondering a move into digital retail when Massenet called to talk about Net-a-Porter’s new men’s site – and to ask if he’d like to edit it. “And I was like, oh my goodness, yes.”
Like Massenet (who worked at W and Tatler before starting Net-a-Porter in 2000), Langmead’s background is in glossy magazines, having edited Style at The Sunday Times, Wallpaper* and Esquire. So the fact that his next role was not on a glossy was bound to get people talking. Indeed, Langmead’s departure coincides with similar moves by other print journalists – Grazia editor-in-chief Fiona McIntosh heading to my-wardrobe.com, and the FT’s Nicola Copping joining Harrods’ online editorial operation.
Of course, Langmead’s talents will be vital to the success of Mr Porter. “Newspapers and magazines can have huge influence and power,” Langmead explains, focusing in particular on their ability to persuade people to shop. “If you feature a product and the store sells out, then that’s incredible, that’s fantastic. But someone else is making the money from your influence. That was one of Natalie’s ideas when she was setting up Net-a-Porter. Here it is about having the influence and taking the money at the same time.” These days, it seems, the devil doesn’t just wear Prada – he sells it, too.
For Langmead, the jump from editing to e-commerce doesn’t seem such a leap. “It’s the way glossies have been going,” he argues, as tougher times have obliged editors to think strategically and behave ever more commercially. “When I started in journalism, it wasn’t at all like that,” he recalls. “It was very much Church and State. [As a journalist] you didn’t speak to the advertising side at all. But that’s changed.” For Langmead, the big transition came when he took over at Wallpaper*, where he quickly realised that if the magazine was to survive, he’d have to persuade advertisers that the title was still cool and still worth supporting after the departure of its visionary founding editor, Tyler Brûlé. And that meant hitting the road with his ad team. “I was involved on all sides. I learnt all of that at Wallpaper*, and it was very useful with Esquire – about a magazine being a brand, not just something you like to read.”
Mr Porter certainly won’t just be something you like to read, and this is perhaps the shape of things to come, according to Massenet, who told the FT recently: “Media companies are going to become retailers and retailers are going to become media companies – it’s inevitable.” Like my-wardrobe.com’s soon-to-be-unveiled new print and online magazine, or Asos’s magazine, which now outsells every British women’s mag apart from Glamour, Mr Porter will be a hybrid. But a handsome, savvy hybrid, for sure.
There’s plenty that an Esquire reader would recognise and enjoy. There are interviews with interesting, stylish men, but from the brainier end of celebrity culture: think hip hotelier and former Uma Thurman squeeze André Balazs rather than David Beckham, and captioned as “Mr Balazs”, a style that recalls both old-school broadsheet practice and the style mag Fantastic Man, a publication with which Mr Porter also shares clean, understated graphics.
Fashion stories are “age neutral”, that’s to say, cast and photographed to appeal to a broad age range, a key aim for both Langmead and style director Dan May, previously at 10 magazine. In the dummy issue, that means we never see the models’ faces, which might get a bit wearing in time; sure enough, May sees this as “a work in progress”. But they’re keen on photographing “real people” rather than models, which often means “shooting £1,400 jackets on a 17-year-old kid who doesn’t look like he can afford it, let alone stand up in it, he’s so skinny. That isn’t going to talk to the average guy who wants to look good and has got money to spend.” So the fashion at Mr Porter will be wearable, and won’t frighten the horses. And the tone of the website is quietly masculine, so men will feel relaxed about shopping, though wives and girlfriends are also expected to shop for them on Mr Porter.
Langmead has two teenage sons with the journalist India Knight, who famously described the break-up in her columns. These days they’re good friends, and Langmead, 45, is in a relationship “with someone who lives in New York – I always date Americans, because I like the accent and I like long-distance relationships”.