WRITER: Nadine Khalil
Initially created as a male extension to the luxury womenswear retailer, Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter has become a titan in its own right and in commemoration of its fifth year in business, we were invited to London to take part in the company’s anniversary party and sneak a peak at the changes underfoot.
It’s a cold crisp night in London and though it may not be raining at this instant, the streets still glisten with the remnants of an earlier shower. My destination is a party in Mayfair thrown by Mr Porter to celebrate its fifth birthday and as I arrive at the address, I’m swiftly ushered into what looks like an 18th century Victorian house by handsome men in waistcoats, bow ties, and bowler hats. With my skirt billowing in the wind I figure that this may be a man’s world but ‘it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl’, and I throw them a cheeky smile.
The venue is a place called the Savile Club, located around the corner from Claridge’s. On a regular day it’s a swanky members-only establishment with an expanse of rich oak, warm chocolate-brown Chesterfields, dim lights, soft carpeting and a high profile list of patrons (or Sivilians, as they’re colloquially known) including John le Carré, Stephen Fry and Sir Peter Ustinov among others. But tonight is no regular night. The place has been transformed into a maze of rooms demarcated by doorways inspired by C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with tailored jackets blocking passageways. At the centre of it all is the club’s ‘Sandpit’ room where portraits dominate walls and killer dance moves govern the dance floor. Off from this is the intoxicating martini bar, while an almost limitless supply of cigars, caviar and vodka are to be found on the terrace garden. It’s a suitable location for the stylish men (and women) who have come out to celebrate with the 116-strong team from this giant e-tailer (now considered the online fashion authority for men with distribution in 80 per cent of the countries in the world).
As you might expect at such a party, the men shine. Sporting smart dinner jackets, crisp, tie-less shirts and designer jeans or trousers, they exemplify the understated style that Mr Porter has become known for: classic without being old school and sophisticated without being showy or stiff. And even if I’m an outsider tonight, I can easily see myself getting used to the company of so many handsomely dressed, well-mannered men.
A particular personal highlight was being flanked by two of the most important members of Porter’s team – Jeremy Langmead and Toby Bateman (Mr Porter’s Brand & Content Director and Managing Director, respectively), whom, as it turns out, are both clever raconteurs. Bateman, who used to work at House of Fraser, Harvey Nichols and then Selfridges before he joined Mr Porter, explains how inspiring clothes are and takes the company’s collaboration with BMW as an example. “When I was thinking of how to design a car for Mr Porter, the image of the navy velvet tux I had hanging behind my desk in the office, with a cream silk shirt and black bow tie simply struck me,” he says of Mr Porter’s limited edition i3 car, which features a Tuxedo Blue exterior with a Capparis White pinstripe running along the shoulder line, and an interior of deep brown leather and dark oak wood in a range of tones and grains. It is being sold for 56,000 USD and for this tidy sum you’ll also get a bunch of goodies from Mr Porter, including a BMW leather holdall bag, a Leica C camera, a Lock & Co. bowler hat, Cutler & Gross sunglasses, a black-and-white London Undercover umbrella and a custom-made edition of Phaidon’s city guides.
“At Mr Porter we love good-looking clothes,” Langmead steps in, revealing that he’s wearing Saint Laurent from head to toe tonight. Bateman, on the other hand is dressed in Kingsman, Mr Porter’s own brand, which they launched with a 63-piece collection of Savile Row-style tailored suits (and accessories) originally made for the film by the same name. “Fashion is what a boy wears; style is something a man has. Men really only discover their own style in their 20s but become more confident about sartorial decisions later in their 30s. Then there are different types of men – the suit man, the jeans and jacket man, the chinos and sneakers man,” Bateman continues, though looking around the room, those lines are seemingly blurring.
Both Langmead and Bateman were chosen by Natalie Massenet, the brains behind both Net-A-Porter and Mr Porter, who founded the former in 2000, before being joined by the financial might of Richemont in 2010. “Natalie is this incredibly inspiring woman who filled my head with lots of ideas that didn’t exist in the physical world,” says Bateman. “The autonomy she gave me and Jeremy in setting up Mr Porter was huge. She convinced us both, separately, to join her. Bizarrely, I thought it was a risk at the time.”
“I was never able to say no to anything Natalie proposed, she is so convincing,” Langmead adds. “I was frustrated with the magazine environment, which wasn’t willing to invest in the future,” he says, referring to his former editorial roles in print journalism at Esquire and Wallpaper. “I was afraid we were going to get left behind in this new digital landscape, which is essentially a two-way dialogue with the reader. I love being able to see where things go online, and how they are being responded to, though I do miss the luxury of being able to craft that beautifully written story for print. Yet I’ve learned that even online, you need to put clothes in context since men have become more knowledgeable about what they wear and, they like a bit of humour. This means we aren’t just a shop, we are a shop with content.”
Left: Jeremy Langmead and Toby Bateman. Right: The company’s fifth anniversary festivities were held at London’s Savile Club, which dates to 1868.
Following the group’s merger with the Italian ecommerce giant late last year, Yoox, Massenet abruptly resigned, taking with her a golden handshake estimated to be in the region of 100 million USD. So with its original founder no longer at the helm, you might wonder if this ship will continue to sail as formidably but the indications are positive. Revenues last year were up by over 20 per cent, with double-digit growth in core markets such as the US and UK, and emerging markets are looking even rosier. Take the Middle East for instance, where they posted a 46 per cent increase in the number of customers in the UAE and a 56 per cent increase in net sales. “It’s clear to see there is a change of attitude towards shopping online in the Middle East,” says Bateman, “and we are delighted that Mr Porter is a part of that. With key new brand launches throughout this year, we aim to become the market leader there.”
Porter currently carries 405 brands, including established household names (Alexander McQueen, ACNE Studios, Brioni, Burberry Prorsum, Common Projects, Givenchy, Gucci, Lanvin, Paul Smith) alongside a growing number of emerging labels. “Every season, our buying team in London, Milan, New York, Seoul, Berlin and Tokyo sets out to find brands that are unique and enhance our existing collection without duplicating what we already have,” says Bateman. “That is key in a men’s market, since there’s no room for two brands to do the same thing.” This is why Mr Porter has conscientiously broadened its scope by adding new categories like sports, grooming and lifestyle.
It’s all a long way from their very first order in 2010; a Turnbull & Asser tie, a John Smedley sweater and a pair of Incotex chinos. “I can still see it in my mind,” Bateman recalls, “We were sitting in our offices with glasses of champagne, waiting for that first transaction.” Five years on, with a current online audience of 3.5 million uniques every month, there’s an even better reason to crack open the bubbly.
Mr Porter now offers 405 menswear brands and has sold enough ties that, laid end-to-end, would measure the same as 18 Mount Everests.