As a pioneering luxury and fashion entrepreneur behind two of the biggest Internet fashion phenomenons (namely Net-a-Porter and CoutureLab), Carmen Busquets can claim to be an authority when it comes to high-end fashion and e-commerce. Having started her first business venture at the tender age of just 22, this forward-thinking Venezuelan businesswoman has risen to the top of her game by instinct, determination and a brazen sense of fearlessness.
“I was young when I started at 22, but it was not a big business then,” she says of the boutique store she opened in 1990 in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. “It was a real challenge going to Paris to tell 18 designers that I was going to represent them at such a young age. I didn’t understand how the business would grow. What you don’t know makes you so much more courageous, in terms of the risks that you take. For me, it was not a question of failing. I told Chanel that I was going to represent them, and I was going to sell them. That kind of confidence and courage – you have it, but you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.” For anyone thinking there may have been more than a little bit of good luck to help her along, Carmen remains resolute. “It’s all about positivity. You make your own luck. But luck is always preceded by a lot of hard work!”
Carmen’s business did indeed grow, particularly following the 1992 military coup d’état. Realising how hard it was for her friends and customers to buy clothes, Carmen began to send them photos from the catwalk shows in Europe, and built up a secondary business selling clothes in this way, pre-selling stock before it had even reached her store. “That’s why I knew you could run a business through photos,” she says, explaining her early days of investment into Internet companies. However, after a decade of attending fashion shows and having to give up six months of the year as a consequence, Carmen decided her next investment venture needed to include someone smart enough to run the business for her. After hearing about Natalie Massenet and Net-a-Porter through her investor friends, “I wanted to be involved immediately. I said, whoever came up with that name is brilliant! I knew Natalie was the person I was looking for. I just knew. I saw the business plan, I called Natalie and I said, where have you been all my life?!” Not that investment in an Internet company didn’t come with its own risks. Whereas now, Internet shopping is a normal part of life, this was at a time when, “I didn’t even know anyone who was using e-mails yet.” Undeterred, Carmen was convinced the venture would be a success. “I never doubted it,” she says. “I had developed a business formula over 10 years. Why wouldn’t it be successful? For me, there was no doubt about it.”
Part of this determination to succeed, however, is down to Carmen’s own unparalleled perception of trends, no doubt honed from her countless years on the fashion circuit. When asked about where she sees the future of retail heading, particularly given the rise of e-commerce, she is quite resolute. “E-commerce and retail will always link together. Retail will become more challenging, but for me, it’s all about evolution. As a retailer, if you don’t change and evolve with the times, you’re just going to get left behind and you won’t be going anywhere. I can imagine a whole world, completely virtual, where you sit down in your house. 3D selling will be the future. You would have the salesperson coming to you, but it would virtual. I find it quite exciting – how that would take place, how you would film it. You’d have all these people working on the camera, but the projection you see is the salesperson, in the most amazing dress. I can imagine the same story with a computer – when you click, you don’t even have to read anymore. A person will tell you the story or they will talk to you about a product.” But the implications of this kind of technology could go further. “Think of a hotel, when you’re making reservations,” Carmen instructs. “You can see the hotel, you can see the room plans, but you cannot actually see the room. Now imagine projecting that room virtually.” You heard it here first!
Back in the present day, however, Carmen is currently focusing her attentions on GiftLab. “It’s all about gifting – it’s my philosophy in life,” she explains. “With CoutureLab, it was about all these wonderful items and beautiful things. But I found there was greater satisfaction in giving. When you give something, you not only give satisfaction to the person, but you almost give a bigger satisfaction to yourself. So I came up with GiftLab. It’s my journey at the moment – global domination!”
Finally, as an acclaimed authority on the subject, we couldn’t leave without asking Carmen to pass on some style tips. “I would never give general style advice to people!” she laughs. “I just think you need to know yourself well enough to develop your own style. The only thing I will say, if you’re not sure and you want to be safe – dress in black. If you want a bit of colour, add a scarf. Be aware of your body proportions. But don’t think too hard, and don’t worry about it.”
Insightful, inspiring and an incredible trendsetter, the fashion world should be counting its lucky stars that Carmen Busquets is one of its most celebrated figureheads.