‘Fashion requires constant and relentless evolution’, says Federico Marchetti
While customers think of what they’re going to wear tomorrow, designers and fashion houses think one season ahead. Federico Marchetti, on the other hand, has been ahead of the curve by years.
“My philosophy is to find a balance between the human and the machine,” the chairman and outgoing chief executive officer of YOOX Net-a-Porter said at the 18th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Friday.
Marchetti was fresh out of business school when he realised that the worlds of fashion and technology would one day intersect; this was long before Facebook, the iPhone and YouTube. In 2000, he founded YOOX, the world’s first lifestyle e-commerce destination, convincing top luxury houses to retail online at a time when the web was largely uncharted territory. But 2006, brands were using his platform to launch their own e-commerce sites.
Two decades on, he overseas brands like YOOX, Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter and The Outnet. They collectively serve more than 4.3 million customers across 180 countries, and garner more than 1 billion visits annually.
The New York Times has called him “the man who put fashion on the net”, pundits call him “the geek of chic”. But as a global pandemic keeps people in, drives them to shop online, and leaves the luxury industry worried, Marchetti has a new name for himself. “I’ve trademarked the term EnterTailor,” he said, half-joking.
“I’ve been trying to combine luxury and technology for 20 years,” Marchetti said. These days, that means transforming the luxury shopping experience and making fashion more sustainable through Artificial Intelligence (AI), visual-recognition software and big data. In 2019, he collaborated with the Prince of Wales to bring artisans and students in Italy and Britain together to design and manufacture a sustainable fashion collection called The Modern Artisan.
“Like India, Italy has a long tradition of craftsmanship, and Prince Charles has worked on sustainability for decades,” Marchetti said. “We wanted to be able to attract the young generation, make it cooler to become artisans.” Data gleaned from five years and 36 million images helped them understand and anticipate consumer demand, reduce waste by manufacturing the necessary number of sizes, and create styles that were timeless rather than trendy.
That balance was in danger of being upended this year as luxury buying dried up. And yet, Marchetti sees it as a period of acceleration for ideas he’d long been pushing. Luxury brands finally want stand alone presences online, and technology makes them look more sophisticated.
“It does not mean physical stores will disappear,” he said. “I’m a tech guy and even I like to visit a physical store. But there will be a balance between the two. The holy grail will be to integrate them perfectly.”
Meanwhile, even fast fashion brands are coming around to his prediction that sustainable goods will drive buying choices. On November 30, Cyber Monday (a traditional day for large e-commerce discounts), YOOX and Net-a-Porter registered a boom in demand for sustainable luxury goods. Beauty and skincare are among the fastest-growing categories. “Luxury is meant to last more than one season — our data shows a big increase [in demand for] timeless investment pieces, including jewelled watches.”
The future, Marchetti said, will belong to those willing to be pioneers and those open to making mistakes. Fashion, he added, is “a fast-paced industry that requires constant, relentless evolution”. “In my 20 years, we’ve changed skin completely every two to three years. The companies that are in trouble are the ones who’ve rejected this constant change.”
That Marchetti has thrived is because “since a child I always loved to be the first” he said. He saw how Instagram was bypassing glossy magazine to emerge as a tastemaker.
Net-a-Porter was among the first to deploy in-app shopping on Instagram and boasts of Eva Chan, the global head of fashion partnerships at Instagram, as one of its independent directors. At YOOX, a virtual try-on feature called Mirror was launched two years ago and flopped. “It was easy to say, ‘You know what? Let’s not do it anymore.’ But it’s important to not give up on ideas,” Marchetti said.
With people home, bored and window-shopping, the relaunched Mirror is more popular than ever. Marchetti knows how much fun it is to just try on something. “Entertainment is part of the proposition,” he said. And he’s the master EnterTailor.