September’s – ‘The Power Issue’ – Download Now

Alison Loehnis, President of NET-A-PORTER and MR PORTER is an incredible woman. Combining an innate sense of style with one of the sharpest minds in the industry, we asked what it takes to continually stay one step ahead and perpetually innovate in an industry as fast-paced as fashion.

What do your first 30 mins of the day look like?

My morning routine has remained pretty consistent for quite a long time. I get up early before my house gets up, just to get ahead of the day. It might be catching up on emails or messages from Asia, it might be getting ahead on admin and I still write letters, so maybe an opportunity to do that. I love running, so when the motivation hits me I will go for a run in the morning and we also have a new puppy so he needs taking out. By the time the kids get up I can be super present and I’ve got a jump start on my to-do list for the day.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary for NAP. Tell us about your role as President of both NET-A-PORTER and MR PORTER – how do you divide your time and how has it changed in the decade you’ve been there?

My role is several-fold, which is what I love about it and what makes it interesting. Essentially, I am there to run the business, run the divisions, steer the ship and keep us really set on strategy; set our targets and really make sure we keep our eyes on the big picture. We have lots of wonderful teams that are focusing on the details and there is a lot of granularity involved with regards to the business. For me, it’s more important that I keep a macro view. I would say that across my entire role I am really focused on our business and creativity, people sometimes assume that those two things are mutually exclusive, but they’re not. I think by being creative it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a designer or an art director but that you can approach business decisions and challenges in a creative way, which I think is really important. I’m organised and divide my time across the two brands, but not always equally at any given moment. I think what’s remained a constant for us is our unwavering focus on the customer, on amazing service, on fabulous products, on being the best of the best and bringing our world to life through content and of course technology has changed. Ten years ago we were talking about apps and how everything is migrating. At that point, mobile was really a very small fraction of business via app sales. What I feel great about is that in an ever-moving landscape we have held true to things that I feel are super important and part of our DNA, yet remained very flexible and adaptable to the market. We stay one step ahead so we always can delight our customer.

You have a superb team. What do you look for when hiring?

First of all, thank you. I think they are superb. What I look for is technical expertise, that goes without saying, positivity, a certain spark, a go-getting type attitude and ideas – I love ideas.  I like an interesting CV, people who have experimented, done interesting things. Having a sense of humour and being a good person are vital.

In your role you have to have the ability to wear a lot of ‘hats’ in terms of understanding marketing, what makes the luxury customer tick etc. What do you think are your natural strengths and which part do you enjoy most?

So, what I think makes the luxury customer tick, is fabulous products – it all starts with the product. Also, service – and by service, I don’t necessarily mean speed. Of course, it can be speed, moreover, it’s – are you getting me what I want on my terms, what I need and when I need it and also giving me some pastoral care? How do I wear it? What do I put it with? Tell me about the designer. I think that’s where video content and written content has a really important role to play.

In terms of strengths, I over-index on, I am a product obsessive. I love fashion, I love products and I am decisive. I am like the customer cop, a customer advocate. I’m super organised. I don’t like complexity for complexity sake. I like keeping things straight, simple and direct. Everything comes back to the customer; always making sure when we are planning something whether it’s a product, whether it’s a service, whether it’s a feature to help the customer. I am an extrovert and I love people so I love working as a team and can’t wait for everyone to be back to the offices. Walking across the office, which I do all the time, is so super fulfilling and lovely to see everyone, but I also think I get so much done. If I walk from one end of the office to another I can get half a dozen things accomplished. I love coming up with ideas and seeing them executed.

Which brands do you personally buy into or which have you seen really driving the business?

Saint Laurent, Gucci, The Row, Mother Denim I personally love, Isabel Marant, Gianvito Rossi, Gabriella Hearst and Ulla Johnson.

Have you seen any trends in terms of buying behaviour during lockdown?

Yes absolutely. There was an evolution of lockdown spending, which was initially lots of sportswear, loungewear, underwear, sleepwear. Then it was Zoom dressing, so makeup, skincare, earrings, tops and beyond that we see customers buying into investment pieces such as fine jewellery and watches. Utilitarian pieces and investment buys or a great handbag, pieces that will stand the test of time.

We’ve only seen the beauty industry go from strength to strength – is this an important category for NET-A-PORTER?

Yes, absolutely its hugely important to us. We launched it seven years ago. We sell you the tools to get the whole look and we are in a position to merchandise beauty alongside the fashion so we can give the customer the head-to-toe option, which is a great service. Skincare has become amongst the most important categories.

Which brands or beauty products are your real hero buys?

There are a few, but there is a newish collection that we launched earlier this year, a new brand called Decree which is amazing. It’s super simple – there’s a morning wash, an evening wash, two serums, moisturiser and sun care. The Augustinus Bader body cream and Frederick Malle Carnal Flower I’ve worn many, many times.

What today is luxury in this time of fashion’s reset?

I think it’s being able to do things on your own terms. Luxury is not about speed, it’s not about volume. It’s about quality, creativity and authenticity and that pertains to everything from products to relationships to how one spends one’s time.

How do you approach client engagement and retention and does this approach differ in terms of men and women?

It’s super important to us and the way we approach it we will never stop evaluating.  We can always do more and we can always learn from what we’ve done and try to do it better. As a company, we are very nimble.  To use lockdown as an example, we came up with really innovative ways to engage our customers. Where we had been reliant on offline activity with clients, we turned our focus to how we could do more in terms of digital? Is it a digital wardrobe clear out? Is it introducing you to the designer and having a very special moment with them? In terms of is it different for men and women – no. But the kinds of things we do are different. The ‘what’ can differ, but the ‘how’ doesn’t.

Which Instagram accounts do you follow for inspiration – or books would you recommend?

For Instagram, I have been very interiors focused. I always start with Architectural Digest or World of Interiors and then I have a host of really small antique dealers and vintages dealers and vintage shows across the UK mainly. And I can basically go down the enormous rabbit hole that is Pinterest. I just moved house, so for me, it’s all really house focused.

We love your style; how do you approach planning a seasonal wardrobe?

I don’t have a wardrobe strategy. I know what I like. I love the seventies, that seems to be consistent. I’ve never really met a prairie dress, high-collared blouse, or corduroy I didn’t really like and that never changes. For summer I definitely embrace more colour. I invest in pieces I can wear again and again, so classic brands such as Saint Laurent are my constant and then what goes around them will change.

Over the years of attending shows, have you mastered any packing tips to keep it light?

Planning. Anyone who says, “Oh I just throw it in the bag” either overpacks or is telling a false story. It also depends on what season of shows. Everyone will say watch it on the outerwear, but I think when you are going to shows in February and March it’s cold – it’s hard to keep it light in winter. It’s much easier in September.

This year has proven challenging for many businesses and leaders. If you face a challenge – what have you found is personally the most successful way to overcome it?

I am not super reactive. I think and I digest and then I spring into action. I think it’s really important to not go it alone – your team plays such an integral role. It’s about galvanising people around you and action is super important. Identifying a clear plan, clear target and all working together.

Do you have any pre-bedtime rituals?

I have got my beauty routine with my Decree. I have my weekly masks, I have a weekly fruit acid peel. I try not to go onto Instagram or anything ever before I go to bed. I might have a quick look at something important that I have to look up. But I am not emailing before I go to sleep and I am always reading something.

What effect has social media played in the luxury industry and which channel do you feel will be strongest in future?

Social media has had a massive impact. Instagram particularly, has had such a huge effect obviously because it is so visual in nature and it has also affected the way brands market themselves, it helps them democratize fashion in terms of access. For me as an individual and for us as a company, it’s really interesting as a way to source new brands and again the ability to access them directly. It creates dialogue, you can have a dialogue with the customers and it is a fantastic way of doing that. I don’t think Instagram has peaked at all. And I think there is much more to come.

You’ve been in the business for 13 years – how did your previous roles help you succeed in your role? 

I feel lucky because I have had a pretty broad career, but there has been a through-line – sales. Selling a product, marketing a product – I’ve always been product-focused, always customer-focused, always balancing creativity in business. I think advertising is amazing training – how to run a meeting, how to contact clients. When I was at Disney it was how you package an idea, how do you sell an idea and pitch in. LVMH was my introduction to the luxury retail sector and also to digital. It’s all come together in a sense and it has been pretty diverse, but there are some real consistent themes that run through.

What advice would you give to your younger self starting out?

Trust your instinct. Go with your gut. Don’t be a slave to your CV. If it’s something that you find interesting and if it’s the right move for you, then it’s the right move for you and whether it creates the CV that you have always dreamed of don’t worry about that so much. I would say find out what you like to do, take your time, ask questions and just go for it. I know that might sound easier said than done, but you have to kiss a few frogs, so to speak.  Your first job is not necessarily the job you stay with forever and that’s okay.

If you were not President at NET-A-PORTER and MR PORTER, which other role would you choose career-wise?

I love my role very, very much. If I was not doing what I am doing, I would possibly be an art dealer. Or –an archaeologist, simply because I am fascinated by finding something undiscovered.

September’s – ‘The Power Issue’ – Download Now

– For more about Dubai’s lifestyle, news and fashion scene follow Emirates Woman on Facebook and Instagram

Feature Image: Supplied