The woman who invented luxury e-commerce as we know it is leaving her company

Onto the next.
Onto the next.
Image: AP Photo/Jonathan Short
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Natalie Massenet, the founder of the luxury e-commerce site Net-a-Porter, has resigned (pdf), taking more than $150 million with her after selling her shares, according to Bloomberg.

Massenet started Net-a-Porter in 2000, when luxury brands were still spooked by the populist playing field of the internet (as some still are today). Luxury, after all, trades in exclusivity. Massenet, a former editor at the London magazine Tatler, was able to convey that feeling via Net-a-Porter’s glossy design and high-end packaging.

Net-a-Porter wasn’t just a web outlet, the company’s beloved black ribbon-wrapped goodies told customers, it was a brand.

But while the brand, company, and culture Massenet built were admirable, Net-a-Porter wasn’t bringing in profits. That’s likely what led its parent company, Richemont, to enter into a merger with Yoox, which owns an online outlet for off-price designer clothing, and powers the backends of several luxury labels’ e-commerce sites.

The deal, which valued Net-a-Porter at $1.5 billion, was a marriage of cultural clout (Net-a-Porter) with tech power (Yoox). In a joint March 31 statement (pdf), the companies announced that Yoox’s founder and CEO, Federico Marchetti, would serve as CEO of the newly merged entity, with Massenet staying on as executive chairman.

Massenet’s departure would not be a surprise. As Jessica Pressler pointed out in New York Magazine in May, Marchetti did not sound keen to share power. Also in May, he declared to the Financial Times that the company had a single boss: “And that’s me.”

Carmen Busquets, one of Net-a-Porter’s early investors, compared the merger to Cartier combining with Swatch.

“I respect Federico, but I question the logic of these two companies together, and of the new personnel structure,” Busquets told New York Magazine back then. ”Richemont has co-CEO’s, but as Johann put it, they are both ‘big boys.’ Maybe that is a quality where Natalie doesn’t qualify in their eyes.”

It sounded then like Massenet had her doubts as well.

“Since the day I started the company, I have thought about what it will take for his business to have momentum and keep going forward,” she told New York Magazine in the same article. “Regardless of who is in the company.”