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December 13, 2017
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Gisele Bundchen for Porter Magazine, Spring 2014. Source: fabzz.com

For the past year, Porter - the first print publication from online luxury retail giant Net-a-Porter.com - has been in the making, causing ripples across the industry. For many reviewers, it has been perceived as being a serious rival to long-term and established fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.

The 284-page glossy consumer publication, to be produced quarterly, finally hit UK newsstands last week featuring art, culture, travel, consumer and beauty content alongside an array of fashion editorials. With Lucy Yeomans, former editor-in-chief of British Harper's Bazaar at the editorial helm, readers were keen to see the final product.

Natalie Massenet and Lucy Yeomans

Source: fashion.telegraph.co.uk

In an exclusive in-depth video interview with Imran Amed of The Business of Fashion last Wednesday, Yeomans spoke about Porter in passionate detail, noting that "We've fallen in love with the woman again. We've talked to her about fashion and the way that she wants to consume fashion […] it's filled with lots of very powerful messages, about the pieces that she needs, the pieces that are going to make her feel amazing..."

Launching in 220 cities and 60 countries, the first issue of Porter was never going to please everyone. Those that have commented on the magazine have thus far fallen into two categories: avid supporter or complete cynic. If I am entirely honest, I have found myself talking from the perspective of the latter, much to my annoyance.

Having flicked through the advertisements and the editorials almost immediately after Porter landed on my desk, I was left wondering whether anything new is really being offered to us within its pages. Although Yeomans explains in her interview with Amed that the content has been switched around to appeal to the modern reader, and the consumer-focused content has been shaped around the 'global woman', it really doesn't look particularly different from that which is already available.

The same models (11-time Vogue cover girl, Gisele Bündchen graces the cover for Porter in an alluring pull-out spread), the same designers and the same advertisers can all be found in almost exactly the same glossy format. There is nothing revolutionary or competitive - nothing particularly forward thinking or innovative.

Yet for Porter to really gain the success it desires, the output needs to be revolutionary. They need to entirely upgrade the traditional interface and redefine what it means to cement our words in print.

It is as a result of this, that I was met with disappointment when I first opened the publication. For me, it was important that Porter did something different. It needed to wipe the market out with something fresh that no one had seen before, and completely change and enhance the shopping experience far beyond just having pages of purchase-worthy items and digital app links at the bottom of each page.

It needed to challenge the competition, rather than buy into it. Porter now gives consumers the chance to choose one or the other... Vogue or Porter; Harper's Bazaar or Porter, Elle or Porter - but is that really the point? To gain half the market.

I think much of this despondency that I felt towards the magazine also arose from the fact that this publication has come from the same woman who gave her whole hour-long presentation at the Vogue Festival last year through the platform of Instagram; who saw the potential of digital back in 1999, when everyone else was resting on their well-heeled laurels; who has been a long-term pioneer of digital enterprise for two decades - Natalie Massenet, Net-a-Porter founder.

Ever since Net-a-Porter's CEO Mark Sebba revealed in December 2011 that the retail giant would be exploring print publishing, I have wondered why a hugely-successful internet-based company would launch a print product - most particularly at a time when the market is saturated, creativity is constantly battling with advertising, and competition for readers is tough. Why launch a fashion magazine having spent over a decade carving out a reputation as an innovative and forward-thinking digital brand?

Natalie Massenet put across her justifications in her video interview with Amed, in which she noted that, "We were known for digital innovation because that is where we started. But really we have been focusing on content and commerce from day one in the fashion space, and the media that we first played with, or that was the biggest opportunity in 2000, was digital."

"We've talked about how the Net-a-Porter group is actually not just a retail company but a media company and if we were a serious media company, we couldn't ignore one of the most important existing media which is print."

A look inside Porter Magazine.

Source: online.wsj.com

Massenet continued, "It is an enormous part of the business landscape, but more importantly, it is an enormous part of our consumer's life habits…We all read fashion magazines; we read print. It is a part of our lives. We wouldn't be a multi-media company without looking at print."

To a certain extent, I do agree. Journalists and readers alike are expected to have a strong presence on every available platform, whether that means a personal website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram montage or LinkedIn network. If all these digital elements are ticked off, then of course, going back to the one missing element - print - doesn't seem altogether illogical; especially given that Net-a-Porter reaches 6 million women each month, and already publishes The Edit online.

Yet for Porter to really gain the success it desires, the output needs to be revolutionary. They need to entirely upgrade the traditional interface and redefine what it means to cement our words in print.

There is a lot to be said for a publication that lasts - longevity is key, and when news stories are circulated across the media with such speed, even now, I love to get my hands on the pages of a well-produced printed publication. As we speak, I have a stack of magazines piled next to my chair in the living room, waiting with baited breath to be read; Love, Vogue, Elle Collections, Tatler. Each issue has been picked up with anticipation, and put down when time simply slipped away. The sad reality of my reading is that I simply lack opportunities.

Even though I want to read them - and, I really do want to open their pages and inhale their newly printed smell and absorb the pages of beautiful clothes - I simply don't have a spare moment in my day. The books sit gathering dust. Even though I could take them on the train with me, after one day, they usually find their way back out of my bag after the prospect of carrying a heavy publication lacks lustre.

Instead, I find myself using my portable and lightweight iPhone. I engage with the majority of my information through digital. Sadly, this is a fact that Porter has missed - and one that could potentially be a hindrance for a publication that prides itself on targeting the 'global woman' - a moving 'citizen of the world'. Perhaps Natalie Massenet has something up her sleeve in her decision to return to print at a time when everyone else is focusing on digital; I only wish that she had finally been the one to revolutionise print and change the face of magazines entirely. Maybe one day.

Related: Digital Newsstands with Virtual Shopping Racks

Related: Vogue's New Rules: A Futile Effort?

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