By  on August 13, 2007

LONDON — Topman isn’t letting his sister, Topshop, steal all the limelight. He’s doing a dance all his own.

The popular British fashion label, which, like Topshop, is owned by apparel tycoon Sir Philip Green, is known for its trendy, low-priced collections for men. Topman launched its first, stand-alone 3,300-square-foot flagship in Dublin in April and there are plans in place for other locations in the U.K., as well as wholesale expansion later this year with Topman Design, the brand’s designer range. On the fashion front, the brand has been expanding into new categories, launching higher-end collections and continuing to collaborate with the British Fashion Council (BFC) to support budding design talent.

“We want to create a fashion emporium where men enjoy shopping,” said Topman design director Gordon Richardson. “We’re broadening our offer to give men what they want, and new things, too.”

Richardson, who joined the company seven years ago, is maintaining Topman’s anchor items: the carpenter jeans and T-shirts, as well as best sellers such as skinny jeans, nylon jackets and skinny ties. In addition, he is introducing more edgy, upscale collections at higher price points. For fall, Topman is unveiling The White Shirt collection, five white shirts created with guest designers including Richard Nicoll, Ute Ploier, Deryck Walker, Siv Stoldal and Carola Euler. The shirts will be priced at 50 pounds, or $101 at current exchange. They will mark the first in a series of seasonal collaboration projects. Each season, a new core product—from classic jeans to sunglasses—will be reconceived by different design talents.

“We want to keep working on redefining staple items in men’s wardrobes,” said Richardson. “We began the project with the essence of that: the white shirt.”

In addition, for the past three seasons, Topman has offered Lens, a shop-in-shop selling limited-edition, fashion-led collections by designers, including Dexter Wong, and labels, such as Neue and Licentious, alongside edgier pieces by the in-house Topman Design team. The concept was launched in collaboration with Matthew Murphy, founder of ultra-hip London boutique b Store, as creative director. Prices range from 30 pounds, or $61, for a T-shirt, to 180 pounds, or $366, for a suit. The Lens collections cost roughly 30 percent more than mainstream Topman lines.

On the upper end, the chain, which operates 237 stores around the world, also offers Unique, its own designer brand, and sells several designer collaboration collections in Boutique, another shop-in-shop.

Richardson said the introduction of new, more “luxe” categories has been a slow-build process. “We want to expand organically, not push things too fast, and keep everything in the DNA of Topman,” he said.

This September, Topman—together with the BFC—will sponsor its fifth season of MAN, a men’s catwalk show during London fashion week. It is currently the only men’s show on the schedule, and will showcase Topman Design pieces alongside work by new designers, which in the past have included Deryck Walker and Carola Euler.

“There are so many talented designers here,” said Richardson. “What’s nice is that before, if you were a design student and you were sensible, you went into women’s wear. Now you can pick either. In fact, there’s more room for talent on the men’s side. It’s a career now.”

He said, long-term, Topman would like to work with the BFC towards the creation of an entire “men’s wear day” in the London fashion week schedule. “We want to put men’s fashion on the London map,” he said.

Richardson’s design-led formula appears to be working. Topman already enjoys a cult status in the U.K., and the company is ramping up its wholesale distribution. In addition, the brand is expecting profits to grow more than 20 percent in the 2007 fiscal year. Although privately held by Arcadia, which is controlled by Green, it’s been widely reported in the U.K. that Topshop’s sales are around 600 million pounds, or $1.2 billion, and profits are 110 million pounds, or $226 million.

Topman Design is currently sold at Selfridges, Opening Ceremony in New York and L.A., Laforet in Tokyo and Shine in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Starting next month, it will be carried at Barneys New York flagships in New York, Beverly Hills and San Francisco.

“The whole look of Topman is so well executed. It’s not a brand that’s filtered. It’s original, not so much produced as designed,” said Joo Woo, men’s buyer for Co-op at Barneys. “We were really keen on the dressy items, the suits, the sweater coat. It’s spot-on. Topman translates catwalk looks, but what’s great is that they have their own take on them. They bring it to another level.”

David Walker-Smith, head of buying for men’s wear at Selfridges, said: “They’ve got the market pretty much to themselves for what they offer.” Walker-Smith added that, so far sales of the line have been impressive, although he would not give specific numbers.

The big question remains: Will Topman be following Topshop’s plans for stand-alone outlets in the U.S.? Richardson declined to confirm either way, but added that it would “make sense” to follow where Topshop expanded. Generally, Topman is sold at the same locations as Topshop, the women’s label. The Dublin store was its first men’s-only unit but there are Topshop/Topman stores in all major British cities as well as in Russia, Croatia, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Iceland, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and in the United Arab Emirates.

“We just want to keep progressing as we have been. It’s very exciting because there’s so much potential,” Richardson said. “We want to create the best affordable fashion. That’s it really. There’s nothing better we could do.”

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