Dame Natalie Massanet, the founder of the luxury fashion website Net-a-Porter, has become a director of Aston Martin as part of a shake-up designed to help restore the carmaker’s upmarket credentials and meet requirements to have more women in the boardroom.
The US-born 56-year-old, who was awarded an honorary damehood in 2016 for services to the fashion and retail industries, was unveiled as one of a trio of new directors brought in by Aston’s chairman, the handbag billionaire Lawrence Stroll.
The appointments mean Aston meets recommended levels for listed companies to have women making up a third of their board, a challenge in the notoriously male-dominated car industry.
Mr Stroll, a Canadian Formula 1 fan who also made his fortune with brands including Michael Kors, plans to make Aston “one of the greatest luxury car brands in the world”, helped by only building cars to order, to maintain their exclusivity.
He became the carmaker’s biggest shareholder last year when he engineered a £500m rescue deal less than two years after it floated on the stock market. Aston, best known as James Bond’s preferred mode of transport, had hit financial trouble after investing heavily in a new model.
The company also branched out beyond its core market, adding its brand to products including a motorbike, helicopter submarine and even a Miami apartment building.
Aston said Dame Natalie, a former fashion journalist, had “revolutionised luxury retail when she founded Net-a-Porter in 1999”.
She came up with the concept while pregnant, hitting upon the attraction of seeing an outfit in an online magazine and being able to click on it to buy it.
Starting Net-a-Porter from her Chelsea flat after raising £1.2m, she was able to persuade luxury brands run by friends such as Jimmy Choo and Tamara Mellon to support her.
Dame Natalie went on to found sister fashion businesses The Outnet and Mr Porter, with Aston praising her for “growing the group into one of the world’s most influential fashion businesses operating across retail, media and publishing platforms, in the process shaping an extraordinary experience for the global luxury fashion consumer”.
She will be joined on the board by another fashion and luxury expert, Marigay McKee, who had a career with cosmetics brand Estée Lauder before joining Harrods.
During a 14-year stint at Harrods, Ms McKee ended up running the upmarket department store brand’s strategy, spotting emerging brands and trends. She was later headhunted to become US department store chain Saks Fifth Avenue.
A further addition to the board is former Ferrari chief Amedeo Felisa. Mr Stroll has previously praised the Italian sports car maker for its strategy of “making one less car than it can sell” to maintain its exclusivity and higher prices than comparable Astons. His turnaround strategy has also returned the marque to Formula 1 racing and brought in further investment from Daimler, the owner of Mercedes, which is taking a 20pc stake.
Mr Stroll, whose son Lance drives for the Aston Martin Formula 1 team, said: “Having refreshed the board earlier in the year, we were focused on diversity as a priority.”