Nancy Zhang has spilt her tea. She’s laughing so much that liquid has sloshed from her cup onto the table in her Beijing office. The cause of the hilarity is my observation that she’s fast becoming the Natalie Massenet of Mainland China. As the founder of Net-a-Porter in 2000, Massenet pioneered the online selling of luxury goods, forever changing the way we consume fashion. Nancy is now doing the same for online luxury retail in China, as chief fashion adviser at husband Richard Liu’s company, JD.com, also known as Jingdong.
The comparison tickles her. “I wish!” she exclaims. “That’s so flattering. Natalie’s been the core of London fashion, and is an incredible businesswoman. Yes, I’d like to be that for China with JD.com. If I can create a great luxury platform and raise awareness about Chinese designers on an international level, then I could say that I’ve done my job. Massenet has been fantastic at that [in the West].”
Modest she might be, but Nancy, who is just 24, is not far behind Massenet. Although she doesn’t hold an official title at JD.com, the largest e-commerce venture in the country, she has become closely involved in building its fashion and luxury portfolios since marrying Richard in 2015, and today, thanks in no small part to her, JD.com is one of the world’s fastest-growing players courting the Chinese luxury market; the world’s largest.
Much of the company’s dramatic growth has occurred in the past two years since Nancy came on board. In May 2015, LVMH-owned cosmetics retailer Sephora and luxury eyewear conglomerate Luxottica launched official stores on JD.com. In the same year, the company partnered with the organisers of Milan Fashion Week to debut an “Italian Fashion Mall” on its site. JD.com was also the first—and, so far, only—retail giant to bring emerging young Chinese fashion designers to the New York and London Fashion Weeks in 2016, a practice it plans to continue.
Further strategic moves have been made this year, as Nancy has more publicly taken the wheel of JD.com's fashion operations. In February, the platform created a new online channel, JD Fashion, which includes Armani, Swarovski and Chopard among its brands. Three months later, Nancy hosted a private fashion party in New York attended by a plethora of fashion and luxury executives as well as style icon Iris Apfel. Most recently, JD.com has signed exclusive collaborations with coveted It designers and social media darlings, such as Chiara Ferragni, begun working on personalised app interfaces for its customers, launched its own line of garments designed in-house, JD X, and debuted a premium delivery service where couriers in suits and white gloves deliver purchases to customers via electric cars rather than scooters.
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“And now we’re extending our reach abroad,” says Nancy, nonchalantly. She’s referring to JD.com’s purchase in June of a US$397 million stake in the high-end London-based e-commerce platform Farfetch, a move that significantly boosts its presence in the online luxury sphere. Richard now sits on the board of directors, alongside Massenet.
“It was just the natural next step in our trajectory,” Nancy says. “JD.com is still quite young as a high-end fashion player, while Farfetch already has a solid offering, with some 200 brands and 500 boutiques as partners on their site. We need that wealth of resources, both for our customers and as a company.”
At this point, I would say the Massenet comparison is more than fitting: Nancy is definitely her natural heir. Even their style is somewhat similar. The chairman of the British Fashion Council (Massenet left Net-a-Porter in 2015) is known for her impeccable yet relaxed looks and a preference for uncomplicated accessories—think skinny jeans and breezy blouses, delicate ornaments and laidback pumps. When we meet, Nancy is sporting her “everyday uniform,” a casual grey Acne Studios T-shirt, high-waisted and flared Derek Lam jeans, and simple, understated jewellery. From her Instagram photos, too, it’s clear she likes to keep things simple.