Thursday, May 5, 2011

Split-a-Porter: It's finally over for couple who built £350million online fashion empire

By Sara Nathan

Fashion flair: Natalie Massenet with Victoria Beckham at Net-a-Porter's 10th birthday party

A fashion boss who sold a stake in her online business for £50million, has separated from the man who helped her turn it into a global empire.

The driving force behind Net-a-Porter, Natalie Massenet had been married to Arnaud Massenet, a French hedge fund manager, for 15 years.

The couple, who have two daughters, Isabella, 11, and Ava, five, yesterday confirmed the ‘amicable’ split in a statement issued through their lawyers.

Mrs Massenet was recently revealed to have become the new sole owner of a £15.5million home in North London and Mr Massenet was spotted with another woman while on holiday in Ibiza.

Widely regarded as changing the way women shop for high-end fashion and couture items, Mrs Massenet’s website has become a global phenomenon valued at £350million.

When she created the business more than a decade ago, online shopping was in its infancy, but the Net-a-Porter site now has two million visitors a month.

Mrs Massenet met her husband at Notting Hill carnival in the early 1990s and promptly moved from Los Angeles to London to be with him. They were engaged inside a month.

Three years later, while working as a fashion editor at Tatler magazine, she had a bright idea for a website where women could find and buy their favourite luxury brand wherever they lived in the world.

Honoured: Natalie Massenet received an MBE in 2009 for her services to the fashion industry at Buckingham Palace with her husband Arnaud

In interview, she has credited her husband with giving her the support and confidence to set up the business.

He helped her to raise the £1.2million investment capital for an project analysts said was doomed.

She set the business up on the kitchen table at her Chelsea studio flat with just two employees.

She reminisced: ‘I borrowed a creaky laptop from my husband, went into the web and never came back.'

At the time, she was pregnant with her first child, but her enthusiasm made up for her lack of experience.

‘I was so naïve,’ she admitted. ‘I picked up a brochure from Barclays Bank that said "Are you an entrepreneur?" and took it home with me. Then my husband explained the basics of capitalism.’

Mrs Massenet has admitted being a workaholic who struggles to maintain a balance between home and business.

She has said: ‘I don’t make home-made cupcakes for cupcake day. I pick them up in the store, and it’s heartbreaking when you hear that some mom stayed up all night baking.’

The only child of an English mother and an American father, Mrs Massenet was raised in Paris and moved to Los Angeles to live with her father at the age of 11.

Mrs Massenet has been working long hours on her latest project, Mr Porter, an online male clothing business that launched in March.

She then indicated her marriage was in trouble after revealing that Mr Massenet did not even know about the project.

Last April, before buying the London home from former BSkyB executive Mark Booth and his sculptress wife Lauren, Mrs Massenet sold a £50million stake in Net-a-Porter to the Swiss luxury goods business Richemont, owner of Cartier and Montblanc.

She celebrated the deal with margaritas with Mr Massenet and the rest of her team – some of whom had been with her since day one and were turned into millionaires by the deal.

Mrs Massenet, who was awarded an MBE in 2009, has stayed on as executive chairman.

A month after the deal, her husband resigned his directorship of Net-a-Porter to focus on his work as an investment banker.

He is not believed to own any shares in the site, which has made a profit every year since it was set up.

It turned over more than £120million last year and is believed to have 1,000 staff in London and New York.

The Massenets own a £1million cottage in Warminster, Wiltshire.


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