When Net-a-Porter launched in the summer of 2000, the pioneering e-commerce site’s focus was on the high end. The platform debuted as an online shopping destination for those in search of the latest and greatest from big-name brands like Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Gucci, Stella McCartney, and Dolce & Gabbana. It was among the first e-comm concepts to successfully translate the luxury fashion market, and ever since the site has grown exponentially. Almost three years after founder Natalie Massenet’s departure and a merger with Yoox, Net-a-Porter now looks to a new era on the horizon, with a widely expanded roster of designers that fits into new categories, including streetwear, bridal, contemporary, and sport, among others. Today the brand is launching a new initiative called the Vanguard, which will help move Net-a-Porter further into the future by nurturing emerging labels around the world.
The incubator program will be overseen by Net-a-Porter’s team of buyers and its retail fashion director, Lisa Aiken. Each fashion season, four new designers will be chosen based on their potential to sell globally online. The Net-a-Porter team across all regions will provide mentorship, which will include sessions that discuss business strategy, buying, social media, and public relations and marketing, all while stocking the brand on the site. As Aiken explains, “The Vanguard is our way of formalising and extending the support we already offer emerging talent. Launching a young brand successfully and with longevity requires so much more than design talent.” Aiken also points out that “in an industry so focused on the new, we want to introduce novelty to our customer in a responsible way that also lends itself to the longevity and self-sustainability of these brands.” With labels like Off-White and Vetements leading the fashion conversation, it is undoubtedly true that fashion’s compass is pointed in the direction of the underground and the disruptors. But how to scout labels like that? “The first Vanguard brands were chosen because we believe that they each have a unique design aesthetic that will contribute to the fashion conversation,” Aiken says. “We ultimately choose the brands that we believe have the potential to grow into meaningful businesses with a global resonance.”
Here, meet the inaugural Net-a-Porter Vanguard class of 2018.
Les Rêveries is a romantic, feminine New York–based label helmed by sisters Wayne Lee and Ai Ly. Before launching their family venture, Lee was a buyer at Barneys New York and had her own label, Wayne, while Ly held design jobs at Donna Karan and RRL Ralph Lauren. Their new line features painterly floral-print dresses in silk and lace with subtle ruffle detailing, as well as logo tees, hoodies and colourful knits. The versatile range of day-to-night dresses is really this label’s sweet spot, all inspired by daydreams (hence the name), poems, musical melodies, and the sisters’ shared love of the arts.
French-Spanish designer Julien Martinez launched his line of woven shoes last year. He uses a traditional Spanish hand-lacing technique to craft his neutral-coloured leather footwear, which is available in styles ranging from mules to ankle boots. As the designer describes his label, “Martinez was born from a tribute to the shoes that my grandmother used to wear. She had a timeless Mediterranean elegance. I really wanted to blend the Spanish inspiration and traditional craftsmanship with Parisian style.”
Sonia Trehan launched her brand of sophisticated ready-to-wear, RUH, in 2016. Trehan’s focus is on craftsmanship and she works with a family-run factory in Naples, Italy to ensure that every piece is made with care and expert craftsmanship. RUH’s small, in-season capsule collections, which drop every six to eight weeks, include refined layering pieces like pleather trench coats, A-line skirts, and oversize collar blouses.
The name Gu_de comes from an old Scottish pronunciation of good, and it couldn’t be more fitting for this buzzy new brand of bags out of Seoul, South Korea. Designer Ji Hye Koo founded her label of understated, geometric top-handles, cross-bodies, and clutches in 2016 and became an overnight sensation in her home country, where she says her customers were on the hunt for something that blended classic lines with a modern aesthetic.