Most people would associate Net-a-Porter with fashion, specifically access to both highly-covetable luxury brands like Fendi and Gucci, as well as highly sought-after cult labels like Jacquemus and Danse Lente. But there’s another, albeit lesser known, part of the Net-a-Porter business that has been growing steadily since its launch in 2013.
The beauty segment for Net-a-Porter started with just 11 brands, but has grown to include more than 200 names today. Among the newer brands to launch are traditional luxury skincare brand Uma Oils, haircare brand Larry King (no, not that Larry King) and leg care brand Legology. Along with constantly updating its roster of brands and its product offerings to include everything from high-tech Dr Dennis Gross SpectraLite FaceWare Pro LED face masks to soothing massage tools, Net-a-Porter has been able to gain interesting insights into the buying habits of its many customers around the world on what is truly selling.
Worldwide there has been a spike in the volume of cleansers sold, while masks of every nature — from cream to sheet masks — remain bestsellers. The new star brand is that of the female facialist, with products by Joanna Czech and Sarah Chapman doing particularly well. From country to country, what women are buying also changes somewhat dramatically.
In Bucharest, serum sales have gone up by 200 per cent while in Dubai, the sophisticated clients love serums, but also Slip’s luxurious sleep-related products and supplements. In Los Angeles, lipsticks and related lip products sell, as do sheet masks and the brand Dr Barbara Sturm, whose skincare the Kardashians love.
In Sydney, women favour the chic makeup offerings of Pat McGrath Labs, while in Paris, women buy lip products aplenty as well as body care and devices. There are also intriguing anomalies: women in Kansas (in the Midwest of the United States) love La Mer, while in Hong Kong, makeup palettes sell better than anywhere else. We spoke to Net-a-Porter’s global beauty director Newby Hands, a former beauty editor who is based in London, to find out more.
What are the biggest global beauty trends today? Or what regions have you found to be particularly influential?
Newby Hands: I think that a lot of the trends now are actually coming from what women are actually buying. Rather than necessarily always having major “trends” they buy into, women have discovered how much they enjoy beauty.
A huge change in the industry actually came from Korean beauty. And it wasn’t necessarily so much Korean beauty products in themselves, but that whole approach. And in particular, it took off in America. And that’s why we are using sheet masks and serums. That absolutely shocked the industry, as it changed it from cleanse, tone, and moisturise — to double cleanse, then sheet masks, then serums, rollers, and creams. I do hear a lot from American that women are going back to fewer layers. But what they are using is different from what they were using ten years ago.
How about the beauty trends that you’ve seen specifically on Net-a-Porter over the past years? Have there been significant changes?
NH: It is a surprise that cleanser has become so big. I mean it is definitely a pollution thing. And also, cleansing has become a little bit of a ritual, with many women double cleansing. But you know, for something that has been around for years and that is quite mundane, to be a best-seller across the world and across the generations is significant.
Women have realised what they put on their skin and what they take (inside) matters as well. Facialist Sarah Chapman has a great range of pills that you can take at night or omegas you can take in the day time. It makes sense if you want healthy skin to take omega oils. You can put on all the hyaluronic acid you want, but if you have a weak skin barrier, it just won’t work.
And mental health has been a big issue around the world, and I think even that moment of calm, whether it is from using a sheet mask or a roller, can be so soothing and calming. Just those little moments can be so beneficial. First, it was what you put on your skin. Then, it was what you took. And now, it’s what you surround yourself by, whether it is the oil you smell or the devices you use.
RB: In Singapore and in Asia, what are the brands that do especially well?
I think what it is with Barbara Sturm is that she has very good textures that work. She sells well in Los Angeles, and she sells well here. One [place] is very humid, and one is very dry. But the texture works in both. And I think that is what makes a very successful brand — it is to have that global approach to it.
RB: What are the products or categories that are the perennial bestsellers here?
NH: Serums. Definitely the hydrating serums. But then it is interesting because we also do well with something like the Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Cream, US$74.22, which is quite a nice, rich cream. But I think maybe [it can be used] at night. I think Singapore is not so much the market for oils, but definitely hydrating serums and sheet masks.
And also, hair. Oribe Haircare is massive. I think it is definitely a market of skin and hair. And in Singapore, lipsticks and red lips do well from brands like Charlotte Tilbury.
What brands are you excited about or have you started using?
NH: I am definitely big into the devices. Two years ago we were layering serums. Now I put a serum on and put on the Dennis Gross LED mask on top. Also, what I love, is that feeling of being very proactive. You feel as if you are doing something good for the skin. And sometimes, it is nice to do a massage. The roller I have been using for the longest time, is from Joanna Czech. I think it’s the best roller. I use my sheet masks almost like I use face cream. Sheet masks really excite me.
Definitely, I would say that devices have gone from being something which I rarely used, to something that I love. I love the Ziip Beauty Device, it has got a microcurrent and you hold it in your hand and you can tone your face up… it stimulates your skin.
I particularly like the face cupping set from Antonia Burrell, US$30.40, that is incredible. You really can drain your face and sculpt it. Literally, and in a matter of minutes it’s just more chiselled. It is quite enjoyable to do it.
We are always on our phones, and I find it very therapeutic and calming to lie in bed and use a roller. You know when they say if you have a headache, you should pinch your eyebrows… it does the same thing.
How do you seek out and select new and exciting brands to sell on Net-a-Porter? What is the process like for you as a global beauty director?
NH: What happens a lot now is people come to us. There are still a lot of brands we have yet to discover. We are always on the lookout, and people are always suggesting new brands. We know our women really well, so we know what will sell.
If we have a facialist in Singapore who has a good following or has a device, and she has a good story, we know it will do well. But sometimes it is the little things. When we are meeting with a brand, we just look at each other around the table and sometimes, we decide straightaway. Sometimes, we have to have a little think about it.
In general, the brand, obviously, has to work first. And then it needs to have some kind of story behind it — something users have a connection to. Whether it’s a Harley Street doctor, or a facialist, or a woman who knows everything about ingredients… everything has a definite story. And then it is about little details. A lot of it may not be all that apparent at first, but the more we get to know the brand, it becomes very clear that there are a lot of subtle details in it.
And also, we work a lot with our brands. We sometimes work from a very early stage and we share information to support them. Sometimes brands will come to us when they’re at a bit of a crossroads, and we can suggest things and be very supportive and collaborative, and give them some direction.
Will Net-a-Porter consider ever doing an incubation programme for beauty brands like the Vanguard programme for fashion?
NH: I love that question because it is something we have talked about. And I can say that we do it unofficially, and it is something that we are aware that we have done. So, whether a brand comes to us really early on and we said, “It’s a great idea, but if you just do it this way, it will be more relevant for us.” At the moment, beauty is going really fast. A lot is happening, but I think it is definitely something that is on our radar.
Bespoke beauty has been a big trend for years. Does Net-a-Porter intend to introduce any more bespoke beauty elements like personalisation or custom-blending of products?
NH: It is difficult. This is something we have looked at and discussed. And I think, while personalisation is big, once you have your custom-made cream made for you, it is really exciting and lovely. But then you want the next thing.
With beauty nowadays there is so much newness. Personalisation for beauty is a great idea, and we wanted to make a [custom] foundation or the perfect lipstick. We are like magpies, we want the next sparkly thing. But on a very practical level it is difficult for us to do though, especially with 170 countries. We have certainly looked at it.
Meeting the beauty brands, or even from your own experience as a beauty expert, do you have any tips to share on mixing and matching products that you found interesting or particularly efficacious?
NH: LI think that in the last few years — unless something is very active — that everything now is made to be mixed together and layered.
I use the Dennis Gross LED mask and then Joanna Czech said to me that, “It is a great mask, but use a vitamin C underneath it.” Dennis Gross has said you should use it on its own. The only thing that you have to be careful of is some of the strongest ingredients like retinoids and peels. I think we have got a bit hard on our skin. In fact, there is a piece I have done with the new Porter magazine, which is about how aggressive we are and how we are creating damage that we didn’t realise. So, I will tell people that if they are going to use a strong peel or a Retin-A, you can always put a cream on top. You don’t have to suffer with it.
In fact, something I was told by a dermatologist in Los Angeles is when using Retin A or a strong retinol, to put a cream on top to get all the effects and none of the soreness. I like layering my serums underneath my sheet mask and then using my roller on top. My new trick is putting an ice cube on top of a mask. Or even putting the roller into the freezer and then you have a cryomask. It is so cooling, and it really tightens your skin. And it gives a beautiful look. In fact, Joanna Czech gets her clients to do this thrice weekly: use a hydrating serum, then a hydrating mask and then the (chilled) roller on top. And that’s to get you ready for a big event.
I find it incredible that today you can buy products that are FDA-cleared. (And it makes me feel very safe.) It is FDA-cleared to do that job, and you can have that at home. It is incredible now what there is in beauty. Also from Dennis Gross, we are launching a stronger, professional peel. So you can be your own facialist and you can be your own clinician. And I do think we want to be invested in what we do.
On one level it’s fun — it’s proactive and it’s relaxing; and also, when you start realising how much skincare can do, then you can start thinking about eating better, drinking more water, and getting more invested in your routine.
What are the skincare, makeup, hair products and fragrances that you brought with you on this trip?
Tom Ford Soleil Blanc Perfume… love that fragrance. I love the Legology Air-Light Daily Cream. I have been using that, but chin down — not just for my legs. There’s a new Sisley Blur Expert Powder and it’s incredible, it’s makeup but also skincare.
For my hair I brought Bamford, an English brand, that is very organic and natural, while being very luxury too. And they have a great shampoo and conditioner. I love it because it is super light. And also the other thing I brought is — I don’t normally use hair products —but I’ve been using Larry King’s A Social Life For Your Hair. It doesn’t make my hair heavy, and I think it is persuading me to use more hair product.