, the first online luxury retailer set up by former Tatler journalist Natalie Massenet, is to be sold to Swiss luxury group Richemont for £350m. The deal, expected to be completed this week, will see founder Natalie Massenet become at least £50m richer as Richemont acquires the remaining 70pc of the company it doesn't already own.

Massenet's stake is thought to be approximately 18pc of the company. Richemont will further acquire the 30pc holding of the Tortola-based Baywinds entity, owned by the Venuezuelan Busquets family, as well numerous smaller investors.

Acquiring Net-a-Porter will give Richemont the channel to sell its own brands including Cartier, Alfred Dunhill and Chloé on the site that around 2m women log on a month to read, browse and buy from more than 200 labels.

The London-based website set up by Mrs Massenet 10 years ago, employs more than 800 people in New York and London. Featuring brands as Lanvin, Missoni, Alexander Wang and Balmain, the site delivered a 67pc increase in 2008 revenues to £55.2m.

Geneva-based Richemont was founded in 1988 and became in 2007 the third-largest luxury goods company in the world by turnover, behind LVMH and PPR. Listed in Switzerland and Johannesburg, Richemont has four main business areas: jewellery, watches, writing instruments and clothing.

Richemont acquired men's retailer Hackett in 1992, before selling it on in 2005 to Torreal. In 2008 the group had operating income of €1.08bn on revenue of €5.3bn.

Massenet founded Net-a-porter when she left Tatler in 1998 and started working as a freelancer. Natalie went online doing a research, and understood where the weak points of the internet were. The internet community at that time was dominated by men, and there were only few American fashion brands offered online, which were not available for shipment outside the U. S. Net-a-Porter was founded to cover the market gap which existed both online and offline.

"It was an obvious problem in the fashion industry. All the various media were telling women about what this season’s look is but when it came to distribution, not everyone can get to a designer’s boutique. Even those who do live in a major city don’t always have the time to go out shopping, much as they’d love to. So, Net-a-Porter was formed because the media was creating the thirst for designer clothing that we didn’t think was being met."

Image: Net-a-porter marketing


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