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Art of Style

5 designers commemorate 20 years with NET-A-PORTER

Meet the class of 2000: the designers who’ve been with NET-A-PORTER since its inception (or thereabouts). These five intrepid aesthetes were some of the first to put their faith in an entrepreneurial e-commerce business – and the rest, of course, is history. Here, they speak to GILLIAN BRETT about the past 20 years and look ahead to the future…

Anya Hindmarch in her south-London studio, flanked by one of her signature emoji stickers

Anya Hindmarch

“I’ve watched NET-A-PORTER grow throughout its various offices,” says Anya Hindmarch, as she vividly describes first seeing the black-ribboned boxes and her earliest meetings at the current west-London headquarters. “Walking through the latest office for the first time is something I’ll never forget, as it’s something you’ll rarely see again in a lifetime. When something goes from nothing to 100, in kind of three minutes, it’s incredibly exciting to witness.”

According to fashion legend, the British designer was the first brand on the site. Renowned for her irreverent aesthetic, some of Hindmarch’s most popular pieces on NET-A-PORTER over the years have included her cult leather stickers that add a flash of personality – from winking faces to cartoonish monogramming – and her exquisitely crafted handbags. It would also be remiss not to mention her crisp-packet-inspired evening bag, which has become a red-carpet favorite. “It’s the idea of making the everyday extraordinary,” she states, simply.

Anya Hindmarch’s I Am A Plastic Bag tote is cleverly crafted from recycled plastic bottles and coated in repurposed windscreen laminates

In the past, Hindmarch has also eschewed actual fashion shows for immersive experiences, including erecting ginormous chubby hearts to float over (or squish into) London landmarks during Fashion Week. Her tricks always have soul, and she often uses fashion as a platform to encourage social change. In February, for example (prior to coronavirus lockdown), she closed all her London stores for three days and filled them with 90,000 used plastic bottles (the number that goes into landfill every 8.5 minutes) to highlight the scale of single-use plastic pollution. She simultaneously launched her ‘I Am A Plastic Bag’ tote – which is cleverly crafted from recycled plastic bottles and coated in repurposed windscreen laminates – exclusively on NET-A-PORTER. Having the opportunity to shout about important projects such as this is something Hindmarch really values. “We can launch a project with NET-A-PORTER and it will tick all the minimums so that we can do exclusive things, which is very rare,” she says. “It’s a lovely moment where, because of the scale, we can do something special.”

Model Karlie Kloss (left), attending an event during Paris Fashion Week in 2016, and actor Kerry Washington, at an awards ceremony in 2015, both photographed holding an Anya Hindmarch Crisp Packet clutch bag

Another of Hindmarch’s most noteworthy collaborations of late is with London hospitals, including the Royal Marsden, for which she created washable and reusable PPE gowns during the coronavirus crisis – proving that her often light-hearted brand can also have a more serious impact and is ultimately weighted in kindness.

It’s the idea of making the everyday extraordinary
Anya Hindmarch

Jimmy Choo’s Sandra Choi

Twenty years ago, Jimmy Choo’s ubiquitous red-carpet presence and starring role in Sex and the City cemented its reputation for ultra-feminine and glamorous designs. As Carrie Bradshaw and her coterie disseminated a fantastical approach to style that helped define the look of the time, Jimmy Choo became a key accessory in its aspirational aesthetic. “I think Sex and the City made you want to live that lifestyle, and that was the highlight of getting involved with that show,” recalls Sandra Choi, who has helmed Jimmy Choo as creative director for almost 25 years. “Before Patricia Field [the show’s costume designer], nobody understood what a stylist really did, but she totally brought the importance of that person – who pulls the whole look together and builds the characters – to the forefront.”

Actor Uma Thurman (left), at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, and Kendal Jenner, also at Cannes but in 2017, wearing Jimmy Choo on the red carpet

Choi noticed a similar phenomenon when NET-A-PORTER began showcasing its products on models in the late 2000s and added unexpected styling tricks that could recontextualize her collections. “The thing that NET-A-PORTER really added on behalf of Jimmy Choo – because we don’t do a fashion show or any other type of garment – was styling the ‘look’ with the other brands mixed in. [With] a pair of shoes, you understand what it is, but bringing something alive by showing people how to wear it – that was definitely new… That’s what makes it ‘fashion’ and creates a full exchange of ways of wearing, say, a pair of pumps. When we first started out, not many people would wear them with a pair of jeans, but now it’s quite normal. That boundary has been completely opened.”

Looking ahead to Jimmy Choo’s role in modern women’s closets in the 2020s, Choi is keen to focus on the heart and soul of the brand. “Unless it’s beautiful, what’s the point?” she asserts. “Everything that we make should be beautiful so that whoever invests in it gets the most out of it, respects it and builds an enduring connection with it – because you connect with moments through the things you’ve worn, if something made you feel particularly good.”

Sandra Choi has served as Jimmy Choo’s creative director since the brand’s inception in 1996
The thing that NET-A-PORTER really added on behalf of Jimmy Choo was styling the ‘look’ with the other brands mixed in
Sandra Choi
Always deeply in tune with his customer’s needs, Mouret is now focusing his attention on sustainability

Roland Mouret

“It was a massive collaboration of newness from the customer, the retail side and the designers,” says Roland Mouret as he reminisces on his nascent years with NET-A-PORTER. At the time, the designer was part of a new generation, having launched his eponymous label in 1998, and was perceptive to the spotlight that this new digital venture shone on him.

Growing up in a French mountain village near Lourdes, Mouret worked in his father’s butcher shop from a young age, and it was here that he became acutely aware of the importance the relationship with the customer plays. With no formal design training, this dialogue was a key component to his success, and joining NET-A-PORTER opened that conversation up to an entirely new, global audience. “It’s a strong education for someone who never went to fashion school; I learned a lot through online retail,” he says. “The first thing I learned with NET-A-PORTER was the need to be consistent, because if someone on the other side of the world orders something, they’re going to rely on a certain level of trust – trust in the size, the quality, the finishing… Delivering the same product to different women around the world with different body shapes, from different cultures and different religions meant you really had to adapt yourself.”

In 2009, Mouret brought a rainbow of colors to NET-A-PORTER with his figure-hugging mini dresses

Renowned for his intuitive draping technique, one of Mouret’s most famous designs is his now-iconic Galaxy dress. Debuted on his spring/summer 2006 runway, using a stretchy, second-skin material, the meticulously sculpted midi frames the shoulders, waist and décolletage, creating the ultimate hourglass silhouette. Three years later, he launched a line of equally figure-hugging, ‘rainbow’ mini dresses with NET-A-PORTER. “Working with NET-A-PORTER was quite revolutionary at the time because nobody was doing collaborations with brands yet. I’d never done mini dresses, but I spoke with the team and they said, ‘Why don’t you do mini dresses? We have a strong market for them.’ We tried a lot of things together and it was fantastic because everything was still in development and every idea felt right to try. I was quite happy to be part of the young generation who were there to make it happen.”

Still deeply in tune with his customer’s needs, nowadays Mouret has fixed his attention on sustainability. As well as using core fabrics that are fully eco-friendly for FW20, and collaborating with sustainable accessory brands, he aims to be carbon-neutral within the year.

Working with NET-A-PORTER was quite revolutionary at the time because nobody was doing collaborations with brands yet
Roland Mouret

Christian Louboutin

“I remember my first meeting with the NET-A-PORTER team perfectly. They came to my showroom in Paris very early and I was impressed by how cool and elegant they all looked,” says Christian Louboutin. In the intervening years, many of the designer’s greatest hits have appeared on NET-A-PORTER, from his cult pin-heeled Pigalle stilettos to his best-selling So Kate pumps, which are named after the one and only Ms Moss.

Model Kate Moss wearing Christian Louboutin at a London Fashion Week dinner in 2012

“I met Kate a million years ago,” he explains. “We’re good friends; even if I don’t always understand her and she has a hard time with my broken English, that doesn’t stop us from having a great time together. Kate often used to wear the Pigalle, which is a short, cap-toe, high-heeled, pointy pump. Moving from it, I designed another sharp style that was simple but very complex and needs to have a perfect line and design since there are no embellishments to hide it. It sounded so much like Kate – simple yet very sophisticated – that it had to be named after her; it was so Kate!”

While the brand is synonymous with this style of seductive stiletto, Louboutin is keen to highlight the brand’s evolution into flats, sneakers, boots and loafers, all with the same elegant audaciousness. “It’s important and very natural for me to have a wide range of designs,” he explains. “Some people love to call [my aesthetic] eclectic. If people say it’s inspired by many cultures, countries, personalities and places, using lots of colors and fabrics combinations, then I’m completely in for it.”

Christian Louboutin is synonymous with the seductive stiletto
Some people love to call [my aesthetic] eclectic. It’s important and very natural for me to have a wide range of designs
Christian Louboutin
As well as being a designer, Diane von Furstenberg has launched a cosmetics and fragrance line, founded a publishing house and written a number of books

Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg is an undisputed grande dame of fashion. Having launched her eponymous label in 1970, the Brussels-born designer secured her sartorial legacy with an uncomplicated but universally flattering wrap dress in 1974. It was exactly this iconic piece that kickstarted her journey on NET-A-PORTER, when the team discovered the brand at a fair in Paris and picked up a version that looked and felt like denim. “It became a huge seller,” recalls the designer, who is also famed for her graphic prints and exotic colors. “I think, in the end, what people remember are the prints. Prints are my training, my strength and the identity of the brand.” By this stage, von Furstenberg’s vivacious wrap dresses were already considered vintage-shop gold, but a whole new generation of women were just discovering her allure. “It’s hard to explain timelessness,” she says. “Sometimes, just as you think it feels old, it feels right again. That’s the mystery of fashion.”

Diane von Furstenberg (left), photographed in New York in 2019, with her granddaughter, Talita, who is launching her TVF for DVF line on NET-A-PORTER this summer; a graphic-print wrap dress (far right) modeled at the DVF FW14 runway show

The 73-year-old has lived many lives and, as well as being a designer, mother and grandmother, has launched a cosmetics and fragrance line and founded a publishing company. She’s written a number of books and has another, called Owning It, on the way. “You’ll have to wait until January, but Owning It is the secret of life,” she explains coyly. The designer is also a passionate philanthropist and has become a leading voice for female empowerment: she sits on the board of Vital Voices, an organization that champions female leaders; she set up the DVF Awards in 2010 to celebrate women who support other women; and, in March of this year, she launched her In Charge with DVF podcast series, on which her guests include pioneering women such as journalist Elaine Welteroth and actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas. “The time has arrived for me to use my voice, my experiences, my knowledge and my connections to enable other women to be the women they want to be,” says von Furstenberg.

Now, one of her closest protégées is set to follow in her footsteps, as her granddaughter, Talita von Furstenberg, launches her one-year-old TVF for DVF line on NET-A-PORTER this summer, starting a whole new chapter in DVF’s NET-A-PORTER story. “Talita is her own woman; she has wanted to do this since she was a little girl. I look forward for her to take over.”

It’s hard to explain timelessness. Sometimes, just as you think it feels old, it feels right again. That’s the mystery of fashion
Diane von Furstenberg