Cocktail in hand, fashionistas enter immersive rooms themed to represent style trends such as double denim and animal print, before posing to take selfies on leopard-print sofas.
It’s the launch night for the Net-a-Porter owner Natalie Massenet’s latest endeavour, The Net Set – a social network that has already received backing from some big names in the business, including Poppy Delevingne, Laura Bailey and Sarah Rutson.
The invite-only app is a mix of Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter but focuses entirely on fashion. Users can create a profile, "love" pictures, "admire" celebs and designers, and join "tribes". But the fun features do not distract from the platform’s core function of enabling customers to buy products directly without being redirected to a mobile site.
Massenet says the rise of social media and style blogs makes The Net Set the obvious next move for Net-a-Porter. After all, the brand did defy critics when it hit the market in 2000. Today, it has in the region of six million customers and the glossy magazine Porter, which launched last year alongside an app giving readers the opportunity to scan an item in the pages to buy it.
But, despite her success to date, can Massenet really compete with forces such as Twitter – sites proven to be popular with millennials – when the average age of Net-a-Porter’s audience is 38? A designer at the launch event is quick to warn against underestimating the power of women over 30, describing the demographic as hungry for inspiration.
Matthew Bennett, the co-founder and chief creative officer of Zak Media Group, also bats off scepticism, saying: "There’s nothing really established quite like The Net Set."
However, he adds that the challenge it faces will be continuing to engage the highly sociable Net-a-Porter audience: "That means Net-a-Porter will need to really innovate to ensure its shoppers stay in its ecosystem and don’t default to Instagram, Twitter and the like."
The fear is, after significant investment, The Net Set might go the way of other great-looking launches and lack purpose and differentiation. Time will tell.
NO Neil Miller, chief executive, Possible
"Brands keep trying to get their audience to change current behaviours with branded portals rather than finding ways to augment current behaviour on established social platforms. They’re building follies – great-looking but lacking purpose."
YES Mobbie Nazir, chief strategy officer, We Are Social
"The Net Set offers a constantly evolving, shoppable source of content determined by the fashion community, not just editors. They’re not building a community from scratch, which could be the key to the platform’s success."
YES Richard Costa D’sa, managing director, Jam
"An opportunity to further diversify its brand presence. The chance to resell or harness the valuable social data is something that could benefit commercial, marketing, CRM or webshop teams. The execution will be key."
YES Luc Osborne, client solutions director, Dunnhumby
"The Net Set is a great example of a customer-powered communication channel, providing Net-a-Porter with a better understanding of its customers, boosting customer advocacy and fuelling its mobile retail channel."