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Alison Loehnis Is Not Done Building Her Net-a-Porter Empire Just Yet

By Renée Batchelor

Alison Loehnis in Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shirt. Available at Net-a-Porter. Watch and jewellery, subject’s own.
 
Takay
Alison Loehnis in Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shirt. Available at Net-a-Porter. Watch and jewellery, subject’s own.

Alison Loehnis is a very powerful woman. As the president of Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter of the Yoox Net-a-Porter group, Loehnis, along with her company has helped revolutionalise the online shopping landscape as we know it. Under her guidance, Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter have expanded even further since its merger with Yoox in 2015. The group announced in September 2019 that it would be partnering with the Alibaba Group to launch a Net-a-Porter flagship store within the online Tmall Luxury Pavilion to reach China-based customers. It currently has a reach of over three million high-spending consumers over 170 countries. Beyond simply reacting to customer trends in areas like sustainability, the group is actually kickstarting many of them by curating and presenting options for the busy, luxury shopper of today. Today you can buy not only a wide variety of clothes and accessories but homeware, cult beauty brands and even luxury watches and jewellery, from your mobile phone, office laptop or wherever else you may be browsing from. 

Although some might say that Loehnis took a bit of a detour in between, her career, in fact, started in retail. She grew up on Manhattan’s West Side. And seeing her mother’s successful career as an advertising executive inspired a young Loehnis. “It was particularly influential to witness my mother’s professional success and by default, this instilled in me both a confidence and a sense of ambition. I credit both my schooling and my mom for my love of fashion. Mum had a fantastic style,” she says. Like many college-age, American teenagers, Loehnis moved interstate to Rhode Island, aged 18, to study the history of art at Brown University. “My first experience in retail came in the form of a summer job during college when I worked on the shop floor at Ralph Lauren in East Hampton. I have always loved fashion and adored selling clothes — every aspect of it from visual merchandising and helping customers to unpacking deliveries. I found myself at home immediately,” says Loehnis. 

“It was particularly influential to witness my mother’s professional success and by default, this instilled in me both a confidence and a sense of ambition.”

Loehnis had been passionate about art from a young age, and always assumed that she would end up working in the arts, but a soft market the year she graduated led her down a different path. “I started my career in advertising at Saatchi and Saatchi which was amazing training. It was a really fantastic first job which created a great foundation to many different roles in media, entertainment and retail,” says Loehnis. After stints in the Disney Corporation and a media strategy agency which took her from her native New York to London, Loehnis worked at British shirt-maker Thomas Pink, which was under the LVMH group. She then joined Net-a-Porter in 2007, to be the vice-president of marketing and sales, and has been with the company since. She now officially resides in London. “I love the energy of the city, that it is both green and industrial, as well as multi-cultural. My husband is British which makes our family unit essentially half and half,” says Loehnis. Her job entails her, understandably, traversing the globe to meet with her teams in the group’s offices in London, New York and Hong Kong and also to attend the international fashion weeks with the buying and content departments. Her shoot with T Singapore took place at The Lowell, a luxury boutique hotel, during the rush of the past New York Fashion Week. During our shoot, Loehnis was warm, but also very clear about what she wants from the shots. 

TakayLoehnis in Co sweater. Available at Net-a-Porter.
Loehnis in Co sweater. Available at Net-a-Porter.

It is this sense of vision which has led to Loehnis’s success. During her tenure at Net-a-Porter she has achieved a considerable amount, and was even listed on Vogue’s Power List in 2015. She helped launch The Outnet, an online portal of past-season luxury goods in 2009 and played a key role in the birth of Mr Porter, the male counterpart to Net-a-Porter in 2011. She also spearheaded the launch of Net-a-Sporter, a category dedicated to stylish, high-performance sportswear, again anticipating the demands of the site’s trendsetting clientele who wanted well-designed clothes for all occasions. Currently, Loehnis’s portfolio includes Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter as well as the media and publishing division that includes the site’s magazines Porter, Porter.com and The Journal. “Working at Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter is hugely inspiring. What motivates me is the shared desire to wow our customers at every stage of their shopping experience,” says Loehnis. 

The group’s sites not only offer the best curation of designers, must-have products and exclusives, but are also constantly seeking out innovative, new technology to make the online shopping experience as easy and intuitive as possible. “We spotted the quick adoption of mobile early, and so when our customer was ready to move across from desktop to mobile, we were ready, along with a very early-to-market app. We constantly develop this, to ensure the shopping journey continues to be seamless,” she says. 

“What motivates me is the shared desire to wow our customers at every stage of their shopping experience.”

Part of Loehnis’s job and what has made her particularly successful is being good at anticipating the changes in retail, specifically in the online, luxury space. The Yoox Net-a-Porter group has always moved rather nimbly. “Earlier this year our group announced a partnership with Instagram to become the first multi-brand luxury fashion retailers to join checkout — an innovative new feature that offers Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter’s followers an exciting and innovative way to shop its products without having to leave the Instagram app,” says Loehnis. Net-a-Porter is also pioneering the way that consumers purchase high jewellery and watches, something which has traditionally been an offline category. Loehnis herself loves jewellery: she wears a Cartier watch, and treasures her pieces from Ana Khouri, Jennifer Fisher and Cartier. Net-a-Porter has been selling jewellery on its site for years, and according to Loehnis worked hard to bring both established and new brands to the customer. 

TakayAlessandra Rich dress. Prada heels. Both available at Net-a-Porter. Jewellery, subject’s own.
Alessandra Rich dress. Prada heels. Both available at Net-a-Porter. Jewellery, subject’s own.

Today one can buy pieces that constitute a mini investment, from an Hermès timepiece to a Boucheron bracelet. “We also contextualise jewellery in a fashion setting, styling pieces alongside incredible ready-to-wear, enabling the customer to see high jewellery in a very relevant and modern way,” says Loehnis. Net-a-Porter launched the Fine Watches and Jewelry Suite in 2018, and on July 2019 launched a new digital destination. This one is accessed by invitation only, and provides an elevated service, as customers browse a selection of curated high jewellery and watches chosen for them, and even discuss the possibility of custom pieces. The brand is also beefing up its cheekily-named Extremely Important Persons programme by doubling its personal shopping and client relations teams in order to meet the rapid expansion of the business in key markets. 

Net-a-Porter is also moving beyond curation towards scouting for new talent and supporting young designers thought its Vanguard initiative — a fashion incubator for nascent designers. 

TakayGucci jumpsuit. Available at Net-a-Porter. Watch and jewellery, subject’s own.
Gucci jumpsuit. Available at Net-a-Porter. Watch and jewellery, subject’s own.

The very stylish Loehnis, who names Saint Laurent, Gucci, Gianvito Rossi, The Row, Isabel Marant, Alessandra Rich and Mother denim as some of her favourite labels is also attuned to the new brands that have yet to hit our collective radars. She is excited about New York-based Peter Do, which was launched for spring/summer ’19, and is doing well, as well as new brands like Commission, which is a ready-to-wear brand also from New York, and The Sant, a bag brand from Barcelona. The success of brands like Les Reveries which was also launched under the programme is described as “wonderful,” by Loehnis, who notes that originality is one of the key, predictive factors for success. “Our customer has always been super engaged with the industry and really excited to learn about new brands, which is where programs like The Vanguard have been such a success, giving a platform to what we consider to be the most exciting design talent out there,” says Loehnis. She shares that under the Vanguard programme, Net-a-Porter’s buyers give the designers advice on many aspects of the business including the pricing structure, category mix, delivery times, fabrications and merchandising. Strides are also being made on the sustainability front. Net Sustain, a platform within the site dedicated to sustainable brands and pro cuts also arose from the demand of the modern, informed customer while the launch of seven, direct-to-consumer brands on the site earlier this year is a way of helping cult labels with strong social media followings to grow globally. 

Dealing with the rapid changes in the industry and keeping up with the needs of customers requires both dedication and energy — attributes that she possesses in spades. Loehnis, describes herself as an early riser and an organised person, who runs, does barre and practices Pilates when she can to energise herself and help unwind. On a personal level, Loehnis who has two, school-age children, feels that the art of multi-tasking is essential to her life. “For me, downtime is equally important to my wellbeing, performance and personal life. I am very close to my family. I travel, but I think in a way that allows me to get an enormous amount done whilst not being away from my family for too long,” she says. 

Loehnis never personally felt the presence of a glass ceiling in her career, crediting an inspiring headmistress at an all-girls’ school that she attended with encouraging her to believe that she could achieve what she set out to do. As someone who is no doubt used to dispensing career advice to those around her, Loehnis says if one knows what they want to do, they should go for it. “Just because your resume might say one thing, there’s no reason why you can’t go for something else. If you want a job in retail, absolutely start on the shop floor, it’s the best classroom,” she says. And there’s something to be said about manifold paths that lead you through rich and diverse experiences, that all converge to exactly where you are meant to be. “I think sometimes taking a winding path where you learn some hard lessons along the way, is greater than a path of continual safe choices,” says Loehnis. 

Photographs by Takay
Creative direction by Jack Wang and Jumius Wong 
Hair by David Bosscher
Makeup by Kelly Sitaras
Digital technician: Yukiha Ishikawa
Lighting assistant: Tristan Wheelock
Location: The Lowell, New York