Nathalie Massanet, founder of luxury online boutique Net-A-Porter, once said, “The most important thing is to follow the consumer.” A new group of e-tailers is taking this to heart by catering to discerning customers who obsess over impossible-to-get collectibles and runway exclusives—and who like to browse the latest Paris collections from the back of a New York City taxicab.
“It’s not about going to Barneys and finding something to wear,” says Julia Chaplin, author of travel blog–cum–boutique Gypset, who scours the globe for fabrics and sartorial inspiration. Instead, these shopkeepers trawl the souks of Marrakesh for the perfect caftan, haggle with vendors at Massachusetts’ famed Brimfield’s Vintage Show and woo celebrity designers to create unique capsule collections.
Gone are the days of sifting through department store webpages for the latest Louboutins or battling deal-hungry shoppers on flash sale sites for last season’s Balmain jacket. “People are looking for a destination where they can get something new but also be inspired, which adds value to the shopping experience,” says 25-year-old Brooks Cook of Community Collection, a new designer-stocked site that donates 20 percent of its sales to charity. “The trend in discount sites worked great, but now they’re oversaturated.”
Whether it’s showcasing an emerging atelier in Milan or procuring products from far-flung locales (Bogota, anyone?), these shopkeepers weave together glossy editorial and hysteria-inducing It items with a hi-tech spin such as posting sales on Twitter. (In the market for an $80,000 crocodile Birkin? Sign up here. How about a one-of-a-kind tweed Chanel jacket? Click this link.)
From an online Mecca of designer vintage to a digital global marketplace to a members-only site that takes runway to real life, here are a dozen new online shopkeepers who shun mass markets in favor of highly curated selections for today’s cyber-shopper.