The man that invented fashion online

by Fabiana Giacomotti, February 1, 2020


Photography by David Needleman

Federico Marchetti – the man who changed the modalities for purchasing high-end fashion, gambling on the potential of the cellphone when most of us still had difficulties booking a restaurant online, and convincing us that a hundred thousand euro watch could be bought with an app – might be sitting on the seat next to yours at this very moment. He has a profile with sharp and yet delicate features, often concealed by one of the hoodies that he has worn since he was studying for an MBA at Columbia University, but that he now buys tailor-made by Brunello Cucinelli. This garment, in a range of different colours, helps him to get some shut-eye during his constant business trips between Milan, New York and London, the hubs of the e-commerce company Yoox Net-APorter (YNAP), which he founded and of which he has been the CEO ever since the Richemont group (the owner of Cartier, IWC, Panerai) acquired total control of the company with a takeover bid in January 2018 followed six months later by the delisting of the ordinary shares.

At that time YNAP was valued at 6 billion dollars and now, two years on, it is clear that Marchetti was planning ahead with great foresight when he decided to make the company safe, as he tells his close friends. After just a few seasons, YNAP made massive investments in logistics that it would have been hard to do alone, even with the support of the market (also the new hub at Bologna is a technological triumph). Marchetti has thus been able to play a leading role in other sectors and platforms that were far beyond the reach of the young magna-cum-laude graduate from Milan’s Bocconi University at the time when he was working at Lehman Brothers in London. The company is now distributed in eight different countries, its venues stretch across a surface as large as 100 football fields, it shoots 12 million photos each year, it developed a fashion brand, 8 by Yoox, using artificial intelligence and has recently signed a joint venture deal with Alibaba.

Now 50 years old, he collects contemporary art, supports music festivals and idolizes Federico Fellini, and he has another good reason to live in the British capital. This is his partnership with The Prince’s Foundation, established in 1986 by the Prince of Wales, Charles MountbattenWindsor. “The Modern Artisan” is a sustainable fashion project involving twelve specially chosen students from the Politecnico di Milano design school and from some of the leading British fashion and design schools, which will be launched in late spring this year. For the first time in the history of YNAP the collection, for women and men, will be launched on all four of the platforms of Yoox, NetA-Porter, Mr Porter and The Outnet, and the proceeds will go entirely to the Prince’s Foundation.

Sitting in the Milan offices of YNAP, with the rosette of his knighthood awarded in 2017 in his buttonhole, and with Maggie’s – his daughter – lime-yellow scarf around his neck (“I found it in the hallway, so she can’t have gone to school today” he says with a dimpled smile that makes him look devastatingly childlike), Marchetti predicts that this will not be a one off collaboration with the Prince of Wales, and that their future projects will be devoted towards strengthening the heritage of Italian and British textile craftsmanship. “Prince Charles made his first speech on the risks of plastic in 1969” recalls Marchetti, and exactly forty years later, in 2009, Marchetti took the first steps towards sustainability in YNAP by inaugurating Yooxygen, the first online platform solely dedicated to sustainable fashion, and by launching the Ecobox™, the first packaging system made from 100% recyclable materials for use in the fashion and e-commerce sectors. In 2019 he inaugurated the Net Sustain platform to promote brands that meet sustainability criteria in the supply and production phase.

Marchetti hates what he calls “greenwashing”, or the veneer of environmental respectability that companies attribute to themselves, simply to boost their marketing operations. Now, after converting six Italian branches of his company to renewable energy, he is working to encourage deliveries by ecological vehicles in the major cities of the world, an innovation that will reach Milan this year. Marchetti believes that people all over the world are sensitive towards these themes, and that it is not just a new phenomenon (“our clients themselves asked us to get rid of animal furs from our product lines”). He is also well aware of the relevance of digital education, not just for sales purposes but for furthering the development of humanity, and especially for women who, when it comes to education, are in some cases still today influenced and addressed towards “classic” studies and hobbies, if not even dissuaded from continuing their studies: “I do believe that the new Coco Chanel has already been born, and she will be a coder: girls must approach coding. In fact, last year YNAP trained around 6,000 students, half of them girls, in workshops in partnership with Imperial College London and the Golinelli Foundation. Two thirds of the employees of the YNAP group, many of them in senior positions, are occupied by women, often young and sometimes celebrated executives. They include Francesca Tranquilli, the president of YNAP’s online flagship stores (such as armani. com and valentino.com, with which the omni-channel distribution project Next Era was tested). Whoever happens to be present at the Milan office will bring you a cup of coffee, but it is better if you make the effort to do it yourself!​

Originally published in Ulisse, Alitalia's magazine