Net-a-Porter’s Sarah Rutson on the Key Buys of the Season

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Photo: Courtesy of Net-a-Porter

On a trip to Dubai, Net-a-Porter’s Vice President of Global Buying, Sarah Rutson, sits with our Editor-in-Chief Haleh Nia to discuss the key buys of the season and the changing meaning of the trend. Here, the two talk shopping, the Middle Eastern consumer, and the changing pace of fashion.

Welcome to Dubai, Sarah! What is it about our city that is exciting for Net-a-Porter? The fact that you and your colleagues are all here is quite telling of the importance that our market signifies for your storied brand.

Thank you, Haleh! It’s so wonderful to be here and the city reminds me so much of Hong Kong, where I used to live previously.

Dubai has been a very important market for us for a long time, as we have an extremely engaged and loyal customer base of women here. She is very expressive with her clothes, this woman. We love buying for the Middle Eastern market — our Middle Eastern customer comes up a lot when we are buying in showrooms, especially when we are looking at color or embellishments, and when we are looking at doing a collaboration, especially for Ramadan and Eid. It’s a two-way street really, because we get just as much from the woman as we give to her actually. I’ve really enjoyed looking at the women in Dubai. When we have been at breakfast and at lunch, you’re so beautifully turned out, so glossy; you enjoy clothes, I love that! It’s a real enjoyment of fashion and jewelry, and there is nothing gray about it.

Dubai has been a very important market for us for a long time, as we have an extremely engaged and loyal customer base of women here.

Let’s talk about shopping for the Spring/Summer 2016 season. What are the key buys that every woman needs to know about?

It’s going to be amazing for the Middle East, because there is going to be a real return to maximalism. Gucci has totally spearheaded that; color, exuberance, precious jewelry, and then the explosion of florals. Dolce did one of the most beautiful collections I’ve ever seen. And what I loved about it was there was quite a looseness to it as well; we have been so used to seeing waists and hips and busts, but now we’ve started seeing long pajama dressing, kaftans, and long maxi dresses. It’s like they’re targeting the Middle East!

There’s been an overall loosening up of the silhouette. I think that very languid, loose quality is very important for the season. It’s almost like the ‘new sexy’. Everything is about shoulder emphasis as well, whether it’s cut-out shoulders, off-the-shoulder, or a reworked shirt — those are the key items we are seeing. Every designer is looking at the reworked shirt, which is basically my wardrobe. A lot of natural cotton fabrics reworked in different ways.

In terms of accessories, it’s a return to a really flat shoe, as well as baskets, baskets, and baskets, and structural bags — beautiful, hand-held structural bags. Again Gucci has been the brand that is spearheading so much of the movement.

It’s going to be amazing for the Middle East, because there is going to be a real return to maximalism. Gucci has totally spearheaded that; color, exuberance, precious jewelry, and then the explosion of florals.

Savoir Flair actually just partnered with Gucci by hosting a beautiful event to celebrate their new Dubai Mall boutique. The floral motif is so beautiful and empowering.

Alessandro [Michele] is such a wonderful, gracious man. I was with him on Monday night at the British Fashion Awards, and he is very gentle, and very gracious. What I’m really thrilled about is the customer — she has just reacted instantly to it. It’s almost as if we had been starved of color and exuberance and that eccentric quality of mixing everything. It’s been wonderful.

It was a rather large risk for him, and worked out really well in the end.

Yeah, fashion is about game changing, isn’t it? Fashion is about moving the dial. Alessandro has created this magpie, quirky look that is just as desirable as the ‘sexy Tom Ford-era Gucci’, but totally different, and it’s really working. It hasn’t even taken two or three seasons to get going, and that’s because it comes from the heart. It’s very genuine, it’s not trying hard, and it just works. Because that was his clear vision from the start.

The ‘magpie’ look became a very quick trend that was adopted globally, but we’re not seeing many others. Do you think the era of the trend is over?

I think that’s in a way a double-barrel question, because the nature of the beast is that we look for common threads. When you’re going from city to city, for five weeks, seeing hundreds of fashion shows, you end up understanding what thread is going to pull multiple messages together, and that thread is the dialogue of trend. What I do feel very strongly about, though, is that our woman understands now that it’s not about being relevant — it’s about having a tick list. She comes to Net-a-Porter for a point of view. Our personal shoppers are so much about the ‘individual’, the ‘you’, the ‘what is your life about?’ I’m a woman who has worked in fashion for 30 years, for example. I don’t follow trends, and I don’t wear runway items. But I’m always relevant and I’m always ‘me’. I think the customer now is very much driven by that scenario as well.

What about Middle Eastern designers? Is there any one new from our market that has caught your attention? We’re so happy to see our dear friend Noor Fares thriving on Net-a-Porter.

That’s the thing — we don’t go out with a tick list of countries when we’re buying. It’s solely down to the talent; it’s solely down to the DNA of the brand. It’s completely, really irrelevant where they come from. And Noor [Fares] is the perfect example of that. It’s every designer’s wish to be on Net-a-Porter, because it is the global platform. Net-a-Porter is the benchmark, not just for customers, but for designers too. What’s critical is that we want to build long-term relationships and we have to be really mindful that there has to be a place for a designer and there has to be a meaning. When you don’t have to find walls, you can just grow and grow and grow, because there’s nothing to stop you, but that can also mean that you don’t want to look like a supermarket because everything for us is about an edit, a point of view.

I don’t follow trends, and I don’t wear runway items. But I’m always relevant and I’m always ‘me’. I think the customer now is very much driven by that scenario as well.

Speaking of that point of view, tell me, what is the secret to Net-a-Porter being able to juxtapose a brand like J.Crew at the same time as selling Chanel?

It’s because one, we have an extraordinary customer, one that is so ahead of the game. And second, the way we curate, the way we talk to our woman, the way we are an extraordinary, shoppable magazine with authority. We are very authoritative! I think as well, our voice to create something new, to be the first, to be able to move the dial — the customer comes to us for that because she knows we can always come up and surprise everybody. You know, I’ve spent the last few months planning ahead what we are doing next September, next October, next November — you know I’m working a year in advance; it’s really exciting. We push ourselves because everyone expects so much of us and we are not about to start disappointing.

Net-a-Porter's Vice President of Global Buying, Sarah Rutson, reveals the key buys of the Spring/Summer 2016 season.

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