Inspiring Woman: Dame Natalie Massenet

Net-a-Porter founder, Natalie Rooney was born in Los Angeles on 13 May 1965, to American journalist and film publicist Bob Rooney, and Barbara Jones, a British model with Chanel. When Natalie was four, the family moved to Paris where her father promoted films and her mother worked in high-end fashion boutiques. Her parents divorced when she was 11 and they moved back to Los Angeles.

Natalie studied English at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  As a graduate, she spent a year in Tokyo working as a fashion model and stylist.  She began her career as a fashion journalist at Women’s Wear Daily in 1993.  She moved to London in 1996 after meeting Arnaud Massenet, a French investment banker, whom she later married.

In London, Natalie worked at Tatler Magazine.  It is claimed she wasn’t happy there, described by a former boss Harriet Mays Powell as “quiet and shy back then, but fascinated by technology” and demonstrating “inner steel and dollops of quirkiness”.

I said to myself: “If my body is putting together a human being, cell by cell, DNA strand by DNA strand, then I can start a company.”

She left to freelance in 1998 but was out of work and pregnant with her first child when she saw a brochure in a bank about how to start a business.  ‘I said to myself: “If my body is putting together a human being, cell by cell, DNA strand by DNA strand, then I can start a company.”

Her idea was to create an online magazine that would allow women to buy the latest designer clothes straight from the pages.  With the help of her husband, Massenet found investors and raised the £1.2million start-up costs and Net-a-Porter was launched in 2000.  It was initially run out of their Chelsea flat with humble beginnings – the trademark black delivery boxes were stacked in the bath.

At first, high-end designers were reluctant to sell their products online, worried that it would destroy the mystique, but Anya Hindmarsh supported the concept, and in 2001, Massenet convinced designer label Rouland Mouret to join.  The number of labels which came on board increased year on year, as did sales, and by 2004, Net-a-Porter became profitable.  Other initiatives – theoutnet.com (a discount sister site), MrPorter.com (for men) and Net-a-Sporter (dedicated to gym wear) saw the business grow, creating 2,500 jobs in London, New York and Hong Kong.

In 2010, Richemont (Swiss-based luxury goods company) acquired a majority stake in Net-a-Porter that was reportedly worth £50million to Massenet, who remained heavily involved in the company as executive chairperson and investor.  In 2014, they launched a print magazine called Porter.

“My entrepreneurial drive is as strong today as it always has been, and my passion for innovation will continue to be my greatest guide in business.”

But in September 2015, just as Richemont announced that Net-a-Porter would merge with Yoox.com, an Italian online discounter, Massenet stated that she was leaving, walking away from what she sometimes described as her third child. “As for my own future,” she said “my entrepreneurial drive is as strong today as it always has been, and my passion for innovation will continue to be my greatest guide in business.”  She reportedly sold her shares in the company for over £100 million.

After 15 years of marriage, Natalie and Arnaud separated in 2011 in an amicable split. They have two daughters, Isabella and Ava. In 2009, she was made Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and was made Dame in 2016 for services to the British fashion industry.

In 2013, Massenet took over as Chairperson of the British Fashion Council and is responsible for steering London Fashion Week. In 2013, she was named Woman of the Year by US Glamour magazine and in 2014, named as one of the most influential people by Time.

It is unknown what Massenet will turn her hand to next. She has registered a company by the name of Imaginary Ventures Limited, we wait with baited breath to see what follows.

What an inspiring woman!

Gilly Cross
Gilly Cross

Gilly is a Kiwi in London, a mum of one, and a career-changer - from Forensic Scientist to Business Developer and Social Media Manager at Runneth London.

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