Let me just be completely clear right from the outset here; the Mr Porter HQ in London is the coolest office I have ever visited. I don’t want you guys to be at all confused about how I stand on this issue. The space so perfectly embodies the online shop stroke magazine (see how well I understand their language now) that part of me thought I was on a movie set. Name of the movie you are wondering? Gattaca.
Though seemingly perfect, the room was the furthest thing from pretentious — which is a sad ailment that many “fashion” companies suffer from. Not Mr Porter though, it couldn’t be further from that. There was a genuine sense of collaboration floating around the cavernous rooms as the legions of stylish folks worked away at newsroom style communal tables. Also notably unpretentious was Net-a-Porter / Mr Porter founder Natalie Massenet. As my little tour snaked its way through the space we eventually came to Natalie’s workspace and she took a few minutes to chat with me about how she got her start and how she built Net-a-Porter up from nothing into the admired company it is today. To talk with Natalie was both inspiring and refreshing at the same time. There are so many people in this world that have done seemingly nothing and are so full of themselves, yet then you meet someone like Natalie who couldn’t be more humble.
The Mr Porter offices are very appropriately situated atop one of the most massive shopping malls I have ever seen. Thankfully, American culture was not to fault for this carnival of consumerism, it was the Australians who are to blame. I’m thinking the Aussies saw it as some sort of modern day colonial revenge complete with valet parking. Interestingly, it is not everyday you see that in London. This point was illustrated by the fact that the valet required a sign explaining that they “park the car for you”.
It sort of makes sense for a company running an online store to be located so close to so much physical retail. It likely serves as a daily reminder of the need to think uniquely to serve the customer in a different way. I’m told though that the main reason the Net-a-Porter / Mr Porter offices are located at the Westfield is because of the availability of large footprint office space. These office space needs are obvious when you look at the growth and scale of things at the company.
Just prior to the Mr Porter launch I mentioned on the twitters how intrigued and excited I was to see the site for the first time. It was an interesting time to see the convergence of editorial and retail in one place. It wasn’t just happening at Mr Porter, but I think there was significant interest in the property (from all over) because of where Net-a-Porter had started and what it has become. Jeremy Langmead came over from Esquire UK to lead the editorial team and Toby Bateman was brought in to lead the buying team, establishing a strong team right from the start. Aesthetically, Mr Porter is basically as good as it gets. The difficulty with online stores is creating an experience that translates the merchandise to the consumer in a compelling way. There are so many online stores out there that are selling interesting product, but are coming up short in the presentation of that merchandise. This is something that Mr Porter has navigated very well. One thing no one can deny is the fact that the site is beautifully produced. It’s just a question of whether or not there is a market out there to truly support a menswear shopping operation like Mr Porter. It’s my thinking (for sometime) now that guys want and deserve their own channel and deserve shops that are specifically geared for them. I also think that Mr Porter raises the bar for everyone and us guys are the ones that reap the benefits. Not a bad trade off. If only we could get them to come and kit out our office too. [MR PORTER]