Mr Porter – menswear’s new online gentleman
I read recently that apparently menswear is often said to be the first area of fashion to feel the force of a recession and the last to return after it. The menswear market in the UK grew by 13% during 2009/10 and according to Kantar Worldpanel was valued in July 2010 at £1bn, equating to 12.2m people buying menswear online in Britain during that period an impressive 25% more than the previous year. So hopefully things are looking up!
Menswear retailers are apparently expecting even bigger returns during 2011 and according to Drapers are expecting a move towards tailored and investment pieces. ‘Guys are getting better and better at dressing, which is an indicator the menswear market is getting back on track,’ said James Spreckley, Menswear Director at premium chain Reiss, to Drapers at the end of January.
Men are increasingly becoming more sophisticated shoppers and my post today illustrates how one e-tailer is embracing this developing market.
New Man about Town
In response to or pre-empting this potential growth market, ladies premium e-tailer Net-a Porter has launched a new menswear site. Billed as the first luxury menswear online retailer with a global reach, the site had a two phase launch at the end of February, encouraging customers to register as founding members to get an exclusive preview before the site went live.
Julie and I, here in the WMpS Sales Team spent some not inconsiderable time on this site last week – even as two ladies we were extremely impressed with www.mrporter.com – as it’s called in a nod to its sister site. Net-a Porter have developed a site totally independent of the incredibly successful existing ladies wear presence. According to the Financial Times back in July, Natalie Massenet Net-a-Porter’s founder expects Mr Porter’s largest customer base to be here in the UK and the Kantar Worldwide figures quoted above suggest there will be huge market potential.
But Mr Porter is not the online premium menswear e-tailer on the block. It will face competition from www.oki-ni.com which stocks premium labels such as Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs and Jil Sander and the Paris based www.studiohomme.com which stocks Christopher Kane, Alexis Mbille and Pringle of Scotland. Both these websites have easy to use navigation and are clean, fresh and contemporary in their visual approach. Ben Banks Chief Executive of Oki-Ni said to the Financial Times ‘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.’
Other luxury brands have also taken this on board. Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s Chief Executive Officer was quoted in the same Financial Times article saying ‘Guys have very different buying habits depending on where they are from and in some countries they actually prefer to shop online. Last month (June 2010) the menswear show in Milan was live streamed to hundreds of thousands of people. Once the show was over they would click and buy the styles straight off the runway, getting them delivered in just over a month.’
So it would seem that Massenet has her finger on a very strong pulse. But how will Mr Porter distinguish itself from the rafts of luxury online brands in cyberspace and Oki-Ni and Studio Homme?
Mr Porter has also taken the clean, slick and contemporary visual feel we see at Oki-ni and Studio Homme but given it a twist utilising the incredibly successful format of its sister site – combining editorial and collections from designers such as Ralph Lauren Burberry, Lanvin and Paul Smith. But it is not merely a male version of the Net-a-Porter site. Massenet has described it as homage to men’s gentlemanly roots. This is achieved through the focused nature of its products and references and associations to the traditional gentleman’s outfitters.
‘Net-a-Porter offers catwalk fashion and trend-driven shopping, but for Mr Porter, while fashion is still important, style is key,” Massenet said to the Financial Times. “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.”
The editorial-driven site includes an online magazine, The Journal, and home page features such as ‘The 32 Essential Items Every Man Should Own’ and a video interview which so far has included designer Paul Smith. The opening issue also featured interviews with eight ‘real men of the moment’ a la LK Bennett including a musician, a poet and a motorcycle designer about their wardrobe choices.
The site offers a whole host of lifestyle features in the Style Directory which includes examples of stylish men – ‘Icons’ such as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Mick Jagger and Johnny Depp; and the ‘Style Council’ which provides recommendations on everything from restaurants to music from a selection of 49 modern stylish men. These include media mogul Jefferson Hack (ex Mr Kate Moss) and actor Hugh Jackman of X-Men fame.
There is a team of personal shoppers that can put together an outfit, build an entire wardrobe or suggest ideas on key pieces to shoppers. The site’s YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/MRPORTER features exclusive video manuals, style stories and interviews.
The Style Directory has a Style Advice section which covers key ‘mens’ dressing issues such as how to fasten a real bowtie! With slick little illustrations it has the feel of a 1950s ‘How to be a Gentleman’ or the ‘Bumper Book for Boys’. There are little visual and editorial references throughout the site to gentlemen’s outfitters particularly in the Wardrobe Manager which has a male wardrobe essentials list including the Tux, grey suits, knitted ties and deck shoes!
This site like its sister site is selling not just clothes, shoes, bags and accessories – its selling a lifestyle. We know that men are becoming much more sophisticated shoppers – they no longer rely upon their mothers, wives or girlfriends to clothe them. Mr Porter have recognised that their customers don’t just want to be sold to; they also want to be informed.
Sarah Curran, founder of My-Wardrobe.com on www.retailweek.com, only yesterday discussed how there has been a shift in the ecommerce world with journalists being hired to innovate and evolve online content improving the customer experience. Curran suggests that the editorial/ecommerce hybrid helps My-Wardrobe stay ahead of the ecommerce game in order to ensure customers keep retuning to the site. She also states that a strong editorial voice is vital to successfully translate a brand online. A theory Natalie Massenet obviously also believes in as she appointed ex Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead as Mr Porter’s Editor in Chief. Other Journalists to have joined e-tailers in the last six months include former Elle UK editor Melissa Dick to ASOS and Grazia founder Fiona McIntosh to My-Wardrobe.
This week has also seen the launch of another new male web presence www.shortlist.com and bi-annual publication which will be distributed free to commuters in London, Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow. The website uses the approach advocated by Curran – editorial content, style advice, the latest gadgets and a whole host of blokey information. Whilst not quite as sophisticated as Mr Porter it fulfils a similar role. Although not technically an ecommerce site it just goes to show that the industry as a whole is responding to men’s increased interest in fashion.
I think Mr Porter is a great site with strong editorial content that appeals to both men and women and I’m sure that Massenet’s online gentleman will be successful. She has a formula that’s worked extremely well with women and has tweaked it to suit her new market. I will certainly be steering my husband in its direction – I’d love to see him morph into Hugh Jackman!Tweet