With The Retail Tech Space Showing So Much Potential, How did Style.com Fail?

Style.com, the most closely watched foray into eCommerce in memory, took 8 months to die, we explore whether Conde Nast's costly fashion faux pas was down to them being too late to the party.

If you type in Style.com, you are instantly redirected to Farfetch. Did you know that? I did not. Curious to why, I did some nosing around and quickly found out that Style.com folded last week. To save face they quickly partnered up with online fashion upstart Farfetch.


I remember Style.com in its heyday. Like an old friend, I watched it evolve and shine brightly throughout the early 2000’s. It was the most-visited a women’s fashion magazine site online. I personally loved it. I unashamedly immersed myself in their fashion news reporting, trend reports, street fashion and extensive galleries of fashion-show photos. Launched in 2000, it initially was designed to feature content from Vogue and W, and then unexpectedly, it found its own audience and never looked back.

Revolutionizing the Way We Shop

Always with our ear to the ground, we wrote about the much talked about transformation of style.com back in 2015. It was an exciting moment, because after years of success, and a few changes along the way Style.com was about to bring something new to the table. On 2 September 2016, Conde Nast decided to relaunch Style.com as a new e-commerce venture. Their plan was to transform Style.com into an online fashion retailer that had the power to revolutionize the way we shop. I was excited to hear that Style.com was evolving with the times and bravely entering a world that was ruled and dominated by the likes of Yoox Net-a-porter Group and Matchesfashion.com. Expecting a “handbags at dawn” situation to erupt when Style.com launched, we instead witnessed Conde Nast’s comeback kid failing in a painful kind of way.

“Expecting a “handbags at dawn” situation to erupt when Style.com launched, we instead witnessed Conde Nast’s comeback kid failing in a painful kind of way.”

Style.com was CondeNast’s first online store. Stocking more than 120 brands and incorporating artificial intelligence so they can ‘learn’ what each shopper wants to see, it looked like its success was written in the stars. As a tech start-up of sorts, they had a great start with the likes of Style.com President Franck Zayan, formerly of Galeries Lafayette, Fashion Director Yasmin Sewell, Head of Innovation Natalie Varma, Creative Director Jane Gorley and Editorial Director Melissa Dick.  I mean, how could they fail, their fleet of staff read like a who’s who of the fashion industry. It was the best gathering of the industry’s stylish mafia, second to Anna Wintour’s Vogue squad. They had the experience and the know how to make things happen, so why did the most anticipated online store fall flat on its face?

Natalie Varma, Yasmin Sewell, Melissa Dick and Jane Gorley of Style.com CREDIT: ANDREW CROWLEY

A Costly Fashion Faux Pas

Well, first of all it was one of the most ambitious projects taken by Conde Nast. They reportedly spent around US$100m (£78.3m) to make the venture a reality and the result was a legacy forever tainted with the fact that it was one of their most costly mistakes in the company’s history.

Secondly, they failed to sign some of fashion’s biggest names to their roster of designers. For months, before the launch, there were whispers that Conde Nast had failed to get Gucci, Burberry, Valentino and Christopher Kane on board. A surprise since the worker bees, they hired had enough pull within the fashion industry to make things happen. So why was securing inventory such a big issue? And why did some of the most sought after fashion houses decline to be part of something so big?

“Before the launch, there were whispers that Conde Nast had failed to get Gucci, Burberry, Valentino and Christopher Kane on board.”

Well, we might never know because Style.com insiders do not want to publicly criticize Condé Nast for fear of the wrath from Anna Wintour. That being, The Telegraph did manage to get one of them to talk anonymously, sharing, “Prada, Gucci, Versace, McQueen, LVMH, they were not there. And you can get them elsewhere.” On their findings Ashley Armstrong, the Telegraph’s Retail Editor, concluded, “They questioned what would happen if a particular fashion editor wasn’t enthused with a particular collection – would that mean that Style.com would not sell it? Or worse, would they attempt to sell it with negative coverage alongside it? Rather than leave themselves vulnerable to a potential double-blow, the major fashion houses simply declined to take part.” 

Also Read: Explosion of Technology Transforming The Way We Shop

With very little chatter coming from Conde Nast on the failure of Style.com,  it is obvious that they played a risky game and failed. The thing is, no one saw it coming. Who knew that they would not be able to execute their vision? Who would have guessed that they would get commerce so wrong? If anyone had the ability to bridge fashion content with shopping experience, it should have been Style.com. Some have said that it was due to the lack of synergy between Conde Nast entities that worked against Style.com others think that they were simply too late to the party. Romain Moyne, founder of Wheretoget, stated in an article he contributed to Medium that, “The industry has been in the know for a long time regarding the shift. But style.com has offered us a brilliant case study and a strong reminder of what not to do in this new social media era”.

Style.com before the transformation

Fashionably Late To The World of Online Retail

So if they knew, why were they not better prepared? It was a bit amateurish for them to underestimate the fierce competition from their rivals. I wish that they had realized that adopting the old model was not the way forward, they should have instead shaken it up a bit and given their own spin on it. I think that they relied too much on their name, which does carry some weight, but not enough to tempt the Millenials, who are not too familiar with the Style.com brand. If they were going to vacation in the world of Millenials, then they should have perfected the native language.

Style.com after the transformation

Humiliated and hiding behind Farfetch, Style.com’s death was not an honorable one. This is a darn shame because I remember them as the global authority on all things fashion. With the world wide world currently ruled by the see now, buy now mentality of the Millenials and Gen Z, it was Style.com’s inability to adapt to the fast paced world of online retail tech, that made sure that although they came and saw they sadly never conquered.

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