Buro 24/7 Interview: Mr Porter Buying Director, Toby Bateman
A talk with the tastemaker
It's almost hard to believe that three years ago, the now-established online magazine retailer Mr Porter didn't exist.
Last year, the ecommerce destination revealed to the world a printed sibling, The Mr Porter Post. A chic bulletin that was handed out at London Fashion Week, the entire print run sold out in a few hours, and the idea was coined by many a competitor.
The company also launched a YouTube television channel – an initiative that is only the beginning of its technological reach.
Mr Porter occupies the entire right wing of the complex Net-a-Porter offices in London. Its female counterpart has also recently launched its own glossy magazine, Porter. On arrival, Buro 24/7 is shown in from a balcony in the middle of the building, which overlooks the vast open space below filled with beautiful, fashion industry businesswomen. "The girls are working hard in a big way. Our wing is a little more intimate," says PR manager Paul Watson.
The "intimate" wing appears as a second open space, and indeed it is a little smaller in size, however holding around 120 people, with windows larger than life, magnificent views of London and a determined gaggle of young people running around from one negotiation to another. The buzz is made up from Mr Porter's editorial staff, creative department, buying department, and marketeers, plus of course customer service.
Amongst the rails of hangers displaying the season's stands buying director Toby Bateman – he has been a leader at Mr Porter since the project's inception, and has held previous roles at Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. Buro 24/7 sits down with the man himself to find out more...
What is most important rule in menswear retail?
You need to keep to the idea of simplicity. With men it's much less confusing than with women.
Why did you decide to sell separately, and not just add menswear to the already existing Net-a-Porter?
If you look at Net-a-Porter.com and its print magazine Porter, they are glossy, sexy, alluring with different options like "dress of the season." Men do not need all that tinsel. Men want to see someone who is similar to themselves...
Or a female, that looks nice.
Exactly! Therefore, we, as a platform, we are completely different, and we need to be separate. We have a very clean design. We tried to leave as much white space. We write articles on topics that interest guys, but they are not necessarily associated with fashion. This could be the story about a famous actor, or the anniversary of 9/11, or how to organise your office space.
But in the end you really have to sell a product...
Yes, but we cannot do it in an obvious way. Men immediately see advertising in images and text, and it repels them. Editorial content on the site is directly related to sales, but we are trying to make it really fun and avoid the feeling that we are imposing goods on the buyer. Women's reaction to advertising is more relaxed. They do not mind, for example, that they are sprayed with something at the perfumery entrance to the store. Girls who have an interest will still look at the selection of new dresses on offer. Guys will find the shortest way to the shoe department, quickly select the right pair and say "thank you."
How did you convince leading brands to work with Mr Porter?
I joined the company in September 2010. The first 6 months meant travelling the world and selling the brand of Mr Porter to clients. We gave examples of how our man might look: we explained that he is a gentleman, with a career and that we would be selling the idea of luxury. Some remained apprehensive. However, when I started talking about the Charvet ties, shirts by Turnbull & Asser, Levi's jeans, John Lobb shoes and Lock & Co hats, my interlocutors suddenly began to show a keen interest. It didn't matter if it was a 60-year-old president of the company, or 25-year-old marketeer. Men in this respect are different from women. We have a clear head and if we want the car, then go to BMW, if you want a decent watch – go to Rolex.
Men understand real craft and how expensive STYLE CAN BE
So men really are loyal to particular brands?
We understand real craft and how expensive style can be, and that some labels do certain things in a better way than others. We are not against buying Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana – all the while still respecting shirts by Turnbull & Asser, which will always be impeccably sewn.
How do you source new labels?
We have no problem in collecting the maximum number of brands we can carry. At the moment, Mr Porter hosts around 200-250, and it's a lot. I do not do a systematic search of new names, everything is much more organic. If I see that some brand fits well with our strategy and aesthetics, it may be involved in the game. I say to our buyers: look for a brand that would make Mr Porter better.
Are there any you can share?
This spring, we will have several premieres on the site – like British brand Thom Sweeney, the tailors of Mayfair. I started to chat with them three years ago, but we could not figure out how to offer online services that tailor to the individual – their trademark, and you need to take measurements from the client. But finally they launched a collection of ready made garments exclusively for us.
Where in the world are the best-dressed men?
I don't really like this question, but it's true that you can spot the differences between the styles of different countries. If you go to Florence, you'll see a large number of well-groomed men who are not afraid of bright colours and very attentive to detail, but they still prefer the classic stuff. In New York, it is more common to see sports items in everyday wardrobes.
We promote the aesthetics of a gentleman
Yet Mr Porter offers a defined sense of style...
Yes, even in all our video background is jazz music, and pictures on Instagram refer to old movie actors. We promote the aesthetics of a gentleman in the spirit of our grandfathers, who often had their own tailor and shoemaker.