Astonishing story behind the new Queen of the High Street

Astonishing story behind the new Queen of the High Street: You’ve probably never heard of Marta Ortega Perez, but her clothes are almost certainly in your wardrobe. As she takes the helm of Zara, we reveal the succession saga that’s worthy of its own TV series

  • High Street brand Zara has become the largest clothes retailer in the world
  • Duchess of Cambridge is among celebrities spotted wearing designs from Zara
  • Marta Ortega Perez, 37, will replace Pablo Isla as chairman in April 
  • She started out on the shop floor 14 years ago at the King’s Road branch 

The Duchess of Cambridge loves the store’s houndstooth dress so much that she’s worn it on two recent public engagements. Claudia Winkleman glittered on Strictly in this season’s sequined mini dress a few weeks ago and Holly Willoughby wears so many of their figure-hugging skirts on This Morning, it’s hard to keep track.

The store is Zara, the High Street brand that has become the largest clothes retailer in the world thanks to the retail giant’s skill at producing stylish, affordable fashion. Remember the black and white £40 polka dot dress that became a worldwide sellout in 2019, inspiring its own Instagram account?

Now there’s a new woman at the helm and while you might not have heard of her until now, you may well have some of the pieces she’s championed in your wardrobe

Like many successful retail executives, Marta Ortega Perez started out on the shop floor 14 years ago at the King’s Road branch of Zara. Back then, with her impeccable, though Spanish-accented English, there was little to mark her out among the cosmopolitan array of employees taking their first steps on the ladder.

Marta Ortega Perez, 37, (pictured) is going to replace Pablo Isla as chairman of Inditex in April, filling the position her publicity-shy father vacated back in 2011

Except for one thing: As this young woman completed stock checks and folded clothes, colleagues could not help but notice the rather expensive Rolex watch.

To be fair, the store assistant in question could probably have splashed out on a Rolex for every employee if she so wished, because Marta, then 23, was the youngest daughter of Amancio Ortega, the owner of the Zara empire and the world’s 11th richest person, with a fortune currently estimated in the region of £58 billion.

Marta is now 37, extremely chic, impeccably well-connected and, by all accounts, hard-working. Nevertheless, unless you are a reader of Spanish gossip columns, there’s a good chance you will never have heard of the woman who is now one of the most influential in fashion. Last week, Marta, who has two older siblings, was anointed successor to the Inditex throne (the company that owns Zara, Massimo Dutti, Uterque and other retail brands).

The twice-married mother-of-two will replace Pablo Isla as chairman in April, filling the position her publicity-shy father vacated back in 2011.

Amancio, now 85 but still heavily involved in the business despite being technically retired, is the archetypal self-made man, a railway worker’s son who left school at 13.

It was with his first wife Rosalia Mera, who died suddenly in 2013, that Amancio started his clothing business in 1975, and the couple had two children, a daughter Sandra, who is 53, and a son Marcos, who was born with severe cerebral palsy.

Marta’s mother is Flora Perez, an attractive young member of staff with whom Amancio struck up an affair (and later married, in 2001, having divorced Rosalia in 1986).

Marta (pictured) who is a favourite with Hola!, is a keen equestrian and a regular front-row fashion show attendee

Marta arrived first, though, in 1984, quickly becoming the apple of her father’s eye. She enjoyed the benefits of a privileged upbringing (her father acquired a horse farm, largely to serve her passion for horses) and studied at a private Catholic school in Spain, then an international school in Switzerland before heading to London’s European Business School.

Glamorous – she once reportedly posed semi-naked on a Barbados beach for Italian fashion photographer Mario Sorrenti – her friends include Queen Letizia and Athina Onassis (granddaughter of the Greek shipping magnate).

She is still a keen equestrian and a regular front-row fashion show attendee. No wonder she’s a favourite with Hola!, Spain’s equivalent of celebrity magazine Hello!

But make no mistake, she is cut from the same cloth as the man in whose redoubtable footsteps she follows. Marta has been quietly learning the family business with stints in London, Barcelona and Shanghai, as well as Arteixo, the small town near La Coruña, Spain, where Inditex is headquartered.

Like her father – the man they call The Boss – Marta prefers to base herself in the shared open-plan space of the company offices. Every morning, after dropping off her eight-year-old son at school, she joins executives to review the current ‘bestsellers’.

Despite the country estate, 100ft yacht named Drizzle and private jet, Amancio is said to be a relatively modest man. Similarly, while Marta owns plenty of couture pieces, not to mention the Hermès handbags, Celine shoes and Marie Lichtenberg diamonds, day-to-day she favours dressing from the family brand – clothes which she always pays for from her own purse.

Amancio, who has an extensive London property portfolio, is famous for his aversion to the limelight. It wasn’t until 2001 that he reluctantly allowed his photograph to be released for the first time.

His daughter, conversely, is clearly not camera shy, but her social media profiles are strictly private. She gave her first significant interview, to the Wall Street Journal, only this year.

Marta (pictured) is said to be visiting Zara stores almost weekly and has been credited with strengthening the retailer’s brand image

‘You never know your future, and I’m open to it. But to be honest, I would like to stay close to the product. I think that’s what my father always did,’ she declared.

She is said to be a hands-on player, visiting Zara stores almost weekly and has been credited with strengthening the retailer’s brand image, leading several campaigns and launches.

Clues to her work ethos lie in her past. A school friend once said: ‘You couldn’t say Marta was a pupil who got outstanding grades, but she did show willpower and a spirit of work which was very much in the style of her parents.’

In her interview with the Wall Street Journal, Marta, who also speaks French and Italian, admitted her initiation to the company fold in London was tough. ‘The first week I thought I was not going to survive,’ she said. ‘But then you get kind of addicted to the store.’

Since then, Marta – described as ‘humble’ but with ‘strong opinions’ – has worked in different departments, from finance to sales and even design.

She has, like her father, been married twice. In 2012, after dating several eligible men, she married fellow showjumper Sergio Alvarez Moya, in a private ceremony on her father’s estate.

No expense was spared — the altar was designed by sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor with entertainment from The Pointer Sisters — and Charlotte Casiraghi, daughter of Princess Caroline of Monaco, was among the 200 guests.

While the groom wore a suit by Massimo Dutti, Zara’s sister brand, the bride’s gown was designed by Narciso Rodriguez. The couple had a son but split in 2015 and she fell into a relationship with Carlos Torretta, a model agent and son of Roberto Torretta, the Argentinian designer.

If anything, their 2018 wedding was even more glamorous than Marta’s first. Spanish newspapers branded the nuptials the ‘wedding of the year’.

Marta wore no fewer than four couture creations, her blush gown by Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, flown in by the designer in person.

Fabien Baron, who is independent creative director at Zara, said Marta (pictured) ‘brings a layer of sophistication to Zara that maybe Zara didn’t have before’

There followed a tuxedo-inspired suit, a pink bow dress and — the piece de resistance — a sequined, backless dress for the evening celebrations at the Royal Yacht Club in La Coruña.

The 400 guests enjoyed performances by Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. It was all captured by the late legendary fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh.

Torretta now works in Inditex’s public relations department and the couple, who share a duplex in La Coruña, have a one-year-old daughter. Marta ‘brings a layer of sophistication to Zara that maybe Zara didn’t have before’, says Fabien Baron, independent creative director at the chain.

‘Her father built a business, and [Marta] is building a community that will help the company go to another level.’

Xabier Blanco, a journalist and biographer of Amancio, said of the move: ‘This succession has been in the offing a long time. Inditex is in very good hands because Marta knows the company inside-out.

‘The father prioritised things like the shop front and Marta right now is a shop window. She wears clothes one day and the next day they sell out.

‘Her succession is another masterstroke by Amancio Ortega, a man who has always known how to do things at the right time.’

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