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Trends, London style

Times Staff Writer

It’s like being inside a fashion video game. A world away from the runways, at Oxford Circus, the nexus of London style is Topshop, a 65,000-square-foot retail mecca with its own sugary pop radio station and bulk candy for sale near racks of gumball-shaped earrings and peppermint-striped plastic bangles. The place is thumping with shoppers -- more than 24,000 a day come to check out trends that move through the store as fast as the images flickering on screens over the cash registers: ‘70s floppy felt hats straight off last week’s Michael Kors’ runway, Marc Jacobs-like corduroy peacoats, baroque pink pearl and crystal bracelets and totes made from vintage football jerseys. The key to the store’s success is turnover -- two deliveries a day, 300 new lines a week and, incredibly, 7,000 a season, according to brand manager Jane Shepherdson.

London, like Los Angeles, is better known in the global fashion industry for mass-market businesses like Topshop than for high-end design. But the store isn’t just about knockoffs. Fifteen in-house designers create original pieces that are well-made and well-priced (though they are more expensive than usual now because of the weak dollar): a T-shirt with a tiger on the front is $26, a blush shadow-pinstripe blazer is $85 and a denim roller derby skirt is $53. A higher-priced line called Unique is sold in its own boutique.

Celebrities who can afford the clothes on tony New Bond Street nearby shop here, including Kate Moss, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kelly Osbourne and Madonna. Beyonce, in town this week for the Brit Awards, was quoted as saying the store is “inspirational.” Sometimes they prefer to paw through packs of Day-Glo fishnets on the main floor with the other customers, although they can use private VIP rooms downstairs and have style advisors bring merchandise to them, along with tea and cakes.

In today’s topsy-turvy fashion world, Topshop’s designers create the pieces that style icons such as Moss and Paltrow incorporate into their own eclectic wardrobes, which in turn influence the collections by high fashion designers.

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The VIP rooms -- which regular people can use too -- are just one of a number of Topshop’s unique marketing ideas. Instead of paper shopping bags, Topshop uses printed cloth totes, which have become status symbols around London. Designs change seasonally. Elaine Kennedy and her 16-year-old daughter Erin, visiting London this week from Albany, N.Y., came to the store after spotting the brown and camel graphic totes on the street. “Everybody you see has one,” Elaine Kennedy said. “The exchange rate is so bad, but we just had to come in.”

In the fall, Topshop will debut a made-to-measure service, a concept usually reserved for high-end stores. It has also been sponsoring designer shows at London Fashion Week for about three years now, including those of Sophia Kokosalaki and Jonathan Saunders. The store benefits from the cool factor of its association with up-and-coming names (in the way Target does from partnering with Isaac Mizrahi and Cynthia Rowley) and from having a front-row seat for designers’ new ideas.

Shepherdson rejects any notion that Topshop damages designers’ businesses by knocking them off. “If they aren’t getting business, they should try harder,” she said. “People aren’t dressing in designer clothing head-to-toe anymore like they did in the 1980s. They say it’s just in London that women mix vintage, mass-market clothes and designer, but it’s all over, in New York and in L.A. too. People can dress that way now because there is a higher level of design being offered all over.”

Founded in London in 1964, Topshop was originally a department store, selling men’s and women’s clothing. In 1998 it was given a makeover, and since 2002 the store has been part of Arcadia Group, the mass-market clothing group purchased by Philip Green, a U.K. retail entrepreneur. Today there are 287 Topshop stores in Europe, the Middle East and Singapore, but it’s the four-story Oxford Street flagship, with its cafe on the lower level, a Topman men’s department and a vintage boutique, that’s the crown jewel.

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“It’s every single style trend at a price, from your basic peacoat to your funked-out sequin boot,” said InStyle magazine’s fashion editor Tobey Tucker. “It’s genius.”


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