- Words By
- Interview By Deborah Brett
The Manhattan-raised, London-based Alison Loehnis is a supreme juggler. As President, Luxury and Fashion, at NET-A-PORTER, MR PORTER and THE OUTNET, she’s spinning enough fashion plates to make most mortals dizzy. Always immaculately dressed with a savvy eye on emerging talent, Loehnis has her finger firmly on the online fashion pulse.
Loehnis’s route into fashion wasn’t typical. She may have started as a shop girl, working for Ralph Lauren during her holidays, but later jobs included stints at advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi and developing films for Disney. With an impressive 15 years at NET-A-PORTER under her belt, and a new fashion-show season about to start, we talk about her enthusiasm for the future of the industry, from 3D printing to sustainability, and how she can’t resist a blazer.
Your career path into fashion hasn’t been linear. What links these different journeys and how have they helped shape you?
When I was starting out in my career and had my first few jobs, jumping around, it felt like it was the right thing to do, but it was somewhat unorthodox. I was self conscious about it. The common thread I suppose is around customer-centricity and selling – how you bring a product to market, get a customer excited about it and bring it to life. The decision-maker that underpinned all my choices, however, was looking for a way to balance creativity and business. Which certainly are not mutually exclusive – how can you bring creativity into a working role? I think that’s the challenge, but it’s always possible.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
There really isn’t one! It sounds a bit clichéd, but typically I would be doing one of the following things; meeting with my team, working with brand partners on special projects, business review, collaborations, creative campaigns, budgets, planning, forecasting, brainstorming, reviewing customer UX (experience) for NET, MR PORTER and THE OUTNET… It’s really varied.
The decision-maker that underpinned all my choices was looking for a way to balance creativity and business.
How do you stay on top of a busy life?
I’m a big fan of a list! I’m not heroically organised, but I do love a list on my phone. And I’m not afraid of a Post-it. I’m also a planner. I like to get ahead of things because I know last-minute stuff always comes up. I really enjoy running. I feel it’s good for me physically and it clears my head. Sometimes I’ll go on a run to figure something out, and even if I don’t have the answer, it’s made whatever the thing is come down to earth. Time with my family, chilling out and not overtaxing myself socially is a must. And I try to do a bit of mindfulness training. I’ve been listening to Tara Brach, whose podcast has been really helpful.
You travel extensively for work. Any tips?
I don’t like to overpack, so a packing list – writing down and thinking through what I need is a huge help. For the flight, I’m a big one for a facial spray – Barbara Sturm is a favourite. A huge bottle of water, and I’ve recently become a convert to electrolytes, I take a little sachet with me. I also take Sterimar spray, it’s saline that you spritz in your nostrils, which stops any bugs and viruses post flight. Dressing in layers is a must when travelling. And with jet lag, I try my very best to just pretend I don’t have it and stay on the current schedule. No napping, instead I like to roam in the fresh air and feel sunshine on my face.
Given our industry we’re relatively mature businesses, but I also feel there’s so much more to come. In many ways it feels like we are just beginning.
I think we’ve all fallen in love with buying homeware, what inspired NET-A-PORTER’s expansion into home?
During the pandemic it became apparent that as people were presenting themselves (on Zoom) in their homes and spending time only at home, it became a reflection of their style. It’s a way for us to show our identity, what interests us. I’m interiors-obsessed, so on a personal level it got me really excited. MR PORTER has sold homeware for a while, but the NET-A-PORTER offering is newer. We always did gifting, but we are refining the assortment as we pick up on what customers are really gravitating towards. From Ginori’s home accessories to Loewe candles and Anissa Kermiche’s sculptural pieces, there’s quite a lot of breadth. We won’t be doing bed and bath or furniture – it’s about entertaining and style for us, with known brands as well as niche labels. Essentially, we’re taking the same approach as fashion into homeware.
As an incredible woman yourself, tell us about NET-A-PORTER’s Incredible Women podcast.
We’re in the fifth season now, and the mission has always been to support incredible women and showcase them and inspire our audience. The new season launches on 13th September celebrating rule breakers, conversations with those who are inspiring radical change across fashion, art, film and music.
Finally, what keeps you excited after 15 years at NET-A-PORTER, MR PORTER and THE OUTNET?
So much! Given our industry, we are a relatively mature businesses, but I also feel there’s so much more to come. In many ways it feels like we are just beginning. Whether that comes down to sustainability, localisation, discovering new brands and talent, or technology and AI personalisation. And with the recent news (FARFETCH to acquire a 47.5% in YOOX NET-A-PORTER), we are embarking on a new chapter. It’s the dynamism of our business that’s kept me excited and working in it for so long.
This interview took place prior to the passing of HRM Queen Elizabeth II.
I can’t imagine you have the time, but what other projects do you have going on that are exciting you?
I’ve just joined the board of Lululemon, so I’m off to Canada before New York (Fashion Week) for two days, so that’s super exciting. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.
Describe your personal style…
I would say it’s relatively streamlined and clean. I love a 70s silhouette, and I’m not afraid of a ruffle, a high waist and a bit of a flare. Feminine but tailored and not too frilly. Brand-wise, I gravitate towards The Row, Chloé and Gabriela Hearst, Loewe, Nili Lotan, Alessandra Rich, Manolo, Gianvito Rossi and Gucci. I’m sure I’m leaving people out!
Our motto at W.ICONS is to invest in pieces that won’t go out of style. What trends do you have your eye on this season and why?
Being smart about outerwear choices. It’s the one area of my wardrobe that I continually build on. Coat-wise, you need something cosy and easy, like a puffa – something not super identifiable. The last one I got was a Sacai X KAWS collab. Then you need a tailored wool coat, a slim silhouette that you can put over a blouse or a T-shirt, then something with more volume that you can fit a lot of layers under.
What are your go-to items that you continually buy, even though you probably have a wardrobe-full?
I, of course, think that my wardrobe is endlessly varied, but if you asked my husband he’d say I owned the exact same thing. There are pieces I always buy into, especially a blazer. They remain my go-to. I have my eye on a Saint Laurent Houndstooth Wool-Blend jacket for this season.
How do you intend to tap into the new season’s trends and integrate them into your wardrobe?
I don’t do it consciously – it’s just what I gravitate to. I’m really clear on what I like and what I like to wear. Those are often two different things, because not everything I like looks great on me. After so many seasons of bold colours, there’s a ton of black this time, so I’m excited for that. Clearly Valentino made a big statement with black, but also Bottega and Balenciaga. I also love this whole foundational dressing, the tank top being front and centre – Loewe does a great one. For me it’s going to be about tailoring and suiting. I love the idea of paring things down.
Any trends you’re skipping?
I love the oversized, volume look on other people, but for me, I don’t know why, I just can’t pull it off.
Top three beauty can’t-live-withouts?
Augustinus Bader The Cream. All things Barbara Sturm, especially her Sun Drops and Enzyme Cleanser. And my desert island scent Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle, the perfect mix of tuberose and eucalyptus.
London Fashion Week is about to start – who is on your radar?
London is such an amazing hub for emerging talent. I’m excited to see the collections from some recently launched brands of ours as well as the return of JW Anderson to the London schedule.
Can you tell me a little bit more about how you support emerging talent via NET-A-PORTER’S The Vanguard program?
The genesis of it goes back some time. We’ve always been champions of emerging fashion talent and informally mentored designers, bringing them to market, so we decided to formalise it and make it a level playing field. The point of The Vanguard is to support and nurture young talent, and help dismantle barriers for designers who are outside the mainstream of fashion, particularly those from under-represented backgrounds. We’ve worked with Christopher John Rogers, Peter Do and Conner Ives, supporting 27 designers since we launched.
How does the process work?
We pick up the brand, sell their product, the brand then also gets a year of mentoring and support from us. We’ve also partnered with the BFC (British Fashion Council) to launch The Vanguard Education Fund. This is where we choose four final-year BA design students and they receive both money and access to two mentors for the academic year. The thing I’m really excited about is the mentorship focuses on 3D design. From a sampling perspective; helping with speed to market and its fantastic sustainability impact. We will be helping to cover the cost of the 3D design training and the licence for CLO, this awesome 3D design program, training designers to make advanced digitised product.
How important is it to you as a retailer and as a supporter of emerging talent that designers become more sustainable?
Incredibly so. We launched + NET SUSTAIN in 2019 as a destination for customers who want to shop through a sustainability lens. But the how-to for designers can be daunting, so we came up with this criteria a brand needs to meet to fall into the + NET SUSTAIN category and it really helps them in terms of creating a framework to become more sustainable. More than 80% of customers say that sustainability credentials will play a role in what they buy.