Semaine co-founders Michelle Lu and Georgina Harding met in somewhat unusual circumstances. Harding was interning at Alexander McQueen and staying with her ex-boyfriend’s mother. California-born Lu had just ended a relationship and moved to London, where she was invited in by the same household. “I remember the doorbell rang and I went to go see what I imagined would be this broken woman,” says Harding. “And I saw Michelle. She was wearing a white fur, these huge aviator glasses, a huge bag, hair blowing in the wind. A pure fashionista vision." I was like, ”Who on earth is this? This is going to be an interesting time.”
She wasn’t wrong. After going on to work together at Mario Testino’s agency Higher and Higher, in 2015 the duo launched Semaine, an innovative e-commerce platform with weekly product edits and inspirations often told with a humorous and fashionable twist curated by high-profile tastemakers. Just over a year later, Harding is a Forbes' 30 under 30 talent, and Semaine has already featured videos with international names such as shoe designer Charlotte Olympia (accompanied by a CGI leopard), hotelier Vanessa Branson, model and Chanel muse Caroline de Maigret, designer Kate Spade, Soho House founder Nick Jones, model Claudia Schiffer and performer Dita von Teese to name a few from the worlds of style, entertainment, art, tech and more.
Adam Welch: How come you decided to launch Semaine?
Michelle Lu: Georgie and I saw an opportunity. We were working together with Mario Testino at a time when there was this rise of the influencer and people becoming their own brands. Simultaneously, there was a move towards video content. But most of the fashion brands we were working with were making videos that were like moving images – just a model moving. There was a lack of storytelling and narrative, and in a way, genuineness. There was also this idea that people really wanted to shop for their lifestyle - to not only know who the model is, but where she works out, and what supplements she's taking, what hotel she’s staying at and what the art on the wall is.
AW: Why are influencers so important at the moment?
Georgina Harding: The word ‘influencer’ is actually misleading, because now people see that word and immediately think of some girl on Instagram taking a picture of her legs. But on Semaine it's the idea of the expert; it’s the idea of authority that we want to communicate.
AW: What makes someone Semaine-worthy?
ML: It’s a gut instinct, but what we also go by is credibility, the idea is that they are the go-to person in their field. So if it’s someone talking about skin care, we feature Dr Frances Prenna Jones, who is able to tell you absolutely everything about how to take care of your skin. If it's about art, it is Alexander Gilkes, co-founder of online auction house Paddle8 and a former chief auctioneer at Phillips du Pury in New York. We want our audience to learn. I think that's something that has been lost in this age of speed and rapid media.
AW: What were the main challenges in setting it up?
GH: The biggest challenge was communicating our shared vision to start, when we had no track record – though people always say that if not everyone gets it, then you're on to something. We'd never run a website, let alone a digital company. But we just knew it was right and we knew this was something that was needed. In a start-up you face a challenge every single day. That’s why it's so rewarding.
AW: After a year in business, do you feel more like tech moguls or editors-in-chief?
ML: I don't know! We go back and forth every day.
GH: I think we're a mix. People tend to think that it's either one or the other – you either have to be a data-driven company and everything's done on numbers and metrics, or it's all done on taste and intuition. But we've come at it from both sides. It's about using the tech to help you. Tech is the engine that powers Semaine as opposed to something that necessarily leads it.
"What I find amazing is that we don't always work with people that are professional performers. But you put the camera on and you create this really intimate atmosphere on set, and people give it their all."
AW: What do you love and hate about shopping online?
GH: What’s amazing is the power and technology behind it. The fact that someone can order something and it arrives the same day. But where we want to disrupt a bit more is in creating a sense of environment. If you think about the retail store, it has always merged content and commerce. The front windows of shops are the content – where they communicate and build traffic. But I think it’s taking outsiders to think about the e-commerce model differently in order to push it forward and revolutionise the market.
AW: It looks like you have a lot of fun doing the videos. Any favourites?
ML: What I find amazing is that we don't always work with people that are professional performers. But you put the camera on and you create this really intimate atmosphere on set, and people give it their all. When we worked with Girls actress Jemima Kirke, she was incredible. She opened the door to her studio and had absolutely no filter. It's really her.
GH: One of our first shoots was with interior designer Carlos Mota. At some point, I don't know if it was our idea or his idea, but he got into the bath and was eating cake. And that was one of the first times where we were like, oh! Okay, cool. It's a relationship – you both take a risk. If we're going to do it, let's really do it.
AW: Are there any dream people you'd love to see on Semaine?
ML: We have a wall of dream people. We shouldn't say this in interviews because people are going to break into our office and it's going to be really embarrassing, like when someone reads your diary. But we do.
GH: It’s about looking at different industries. One week we might have someone from the tech industry, then next week, maybe an amazing philosopher. For us it's about the people, and it's also about the different interests that we can tap into. But I feel like if we disclose any names they'll be on another platform next week so we keep them close to our heart.