Online shopping used to be all about convenience, but recently it’s started to feel more like indulging in a glossy magazine. While the first wave of e-tailers were feted for encyclopedic brand selections and functional site designs, the newest crop of online fashion shops is armed with striking photography, tightly-edited product ranges and a vast store of knowledge to impart upon information-hungry consumers.
Unlike the early days of online retail, in which clothes were merchandised on row after digital row of headless mannequins, these e-tailers are enlisting fashion photographers and modeling agencies to create artful photo shoots that bring their garments to life—and give them an added jolt of covetability. “Our stores change all the time, fashion changes all the time and photography keeps the site from staying static,” says Louis Terline, of New York’s Oak, who considers the website a “cornerstone” of his business. Every month, up-and-coming stylists and photographers create editorials from the store’s wares, both to highlight Oak’s unique viewpoint and to keep the site “in a constant state of flux.”
Taking the idea to another level, high-end Yoox.com offshoot The Corner has launched a project whereby top stylists and photographers from around the world collaborate on creative photo shoots using pieces from the site. A recent London shoot, for instance, was directed by Nicola Formichetti, modeled by Jethro Cave and shot by Brett Lloyd.
Part of this visual emphasis is due to the product ranges these sites offer, which tend to veer toward the avant-garde, the experimental and the hard-to-find. Each site we spoke to cited exclusive partnerships as being key, and noted that they’re keeping their designer rosters small and finely edited. “We’re trying to cultivate relationships with designers who can give us exclusive pieces—and even exclusive online representation, period—so we can do really cool things with them as we grow,” says Cristy Turner, Creative Director of Revolve Clothing and its new high-end sister site Forward. So far, Turner has secured exclusive online deals for the latter with Yohji Yamamoto, Gaspard Yurkievich and Steve J & Yoni P. The Corner, too, was responsible for several brands’ European online debuts, including Adam Kimmel, Walter van Beirendonck and Neil Barrett.
And if you’re selling an unfamiliar product to an audience who can’t try before buying, a library of background reading is pretty near essential. One of the most extensive we’ve found is at Futurenatural, an organic beauty shop that’s been tipped as the green set’s answer to Sephora. “Consumers are still struggling with where to find well designed, modern and effective natural beauty products, so we’re really passionate about educating and empowering them,” says founder Emma Pezzack, a 20-year cosmetics industry veteran. Features such as an online glossary help shoppers understand what’s in each product, while a sister blog, Organic Beauty View, provides news and tips from a crew of former glossy magazine beauty editors.
In a similar vein, most of the other sites we researched include a wealth of information on their brands, from designer bios on The Corner and Oak to collection inspiration and styling ideas on Forward. “The reason we buy these lines is because of the amazing stories behind them, and we want to communicate that. There are no salespeople to explain things online,” adds Terline.
While each of these sites has different goals—Futurenatural plans to move into brick-and-mortar retail, Forward is focused on curating an exclusive designer roster and Oak hopes to obtain more non-product related content from designers—innovation will always be at their core. “When you’re online, everything’s a Google search away,” notes Turner. “Finding a way to create a niche and distinguish yourself from everyone else is crucial.”