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London’s Fashion Festival

Topshop can be called a fashion amusement park.<br><br>The 65,000-square-foot flagship in Oxford Circus features loud music, glittering merchandise and a sense of discovery and adventure. It has become a mecca for fashion lovers, drawn by the mystery...

Topshop can be called a fashion amusement park.

This story first appeared in the November 21, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The 65,000-square-foot flagship in Oxford Circus features loud music, glittering merchandise and a sense of discovery and adventure. It has become a mecca for fashion lovers, drawn by the mystery of Topshop’s merchandising, which has the rare combination of knocking off runway looks and providing their inspiration.

The store’s seven full-time designers, who work under Jane Shepherdson, Topshop’s brand manager, spend their time chasing the fashion zeitgeist. Their ideas come from lots of avenues, from Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu catwalks and the windows at Barneys to Heat magazine and what celebrities wear on their days off.

Last season, they imagined the kind of vest Kate Moss would want to wear — and when they put them on sale, the model bought a few for her maternity wardrobe. Earlier this year, when soccer star David Beckham wore a woolly hat to visit his wife in the hospital, Topshop put a similar one in the store 10 days later and sold thousands.

“The store is a monster that needs to be fed all the time, so we’re looking at everybody,” said Shepherdson, who over the past five years helped Topshop cast off its image as a dull, disorganized store catering exclusively to teens. “This is a mass market business after all and we know there’s absolutely nothing we can’t do. That may mean asking the Ministry of Defense for leftover army jackets or hunting for vintage clothes in a warehouse in France.

“Now, I think Topshop is a reflection of what London fashion is: eclectic, mismatched — a little catwalk, a little vintage, sometimes customized. It’s about expressing yourself in a different way.”

There are 287 Topshop units in the U.K., Europe, the Middle East and Singapore, but it’s the Oxford Circus store — and the 10 megastores around the U.K. — that are the most chic. About 300 new stockkeeping units hit the Oxford Circus store every week from about 200 lines. Mannequins are changed every day.

Topshop, which is under private ownership, declined to reveal sales figures. However, industry sources said 2001 sales were about $525 million. According to the 2001 annual report, sales rose 7 percent last year for the year, while same-store sales rose 9.3 percent.

In the fall, there were waiting lists for $45 ruched trousers, $180 canvas coats with removable sheepskin linings and $52 cargo pants with embroidery down the side. Next season, she said, is going to be about cleaner, slimmer lines, a little bit of Eighties jersey, pale grays and pastel shades.

The ground floor of the four-story Oxford Circus store is home to a colorful jumble of accessories: marabou scarves, silver bangles, striped hats, mile-long scarves, Tina Turner wigs, kitschy cards, pins and makeup, along with Gummy Bears and licorice whips.

The first two floors are packed with women’s clothing. There’s an area with flea market–like stalls that sell customized vintage and surplus clothes, a space for designer-made fashion — Marcus Lupfer and Sophia Kokosalaki design lines especially for the store — and Topshop brand designs.

Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, who works on the company’s image and advertising alongside Shepherdson, said the approach to Topshop was almost like “an anti-branding.”

“Branding is quite an adult term, which suggests something that’s homogenized,” Newhouse said. “We made Topshop organic, irregular, something that evolved and changed on a whim together with the deliveries of different merchandise. Topshop’s inconsistencies became its trademark.

“The former logo was very wooden, chunky and unmodern. So, together with my partner Stephen Wolstenholme, we lightened and refined it. Almost immediately, the ads lifted because of the logo change. The ads show the sort of girl who would shop there. We don’t want an untouchable look.”

She added that in-store posters and video monitors are meant to give the store the feeling of a club, but still a place to shop.

Topshop is part of Arcadia, the mass market clothing group that was purchased this fall by Philip Green, a U.K. retail entrepreneur. Green told WWD that he has no plans to spin off Topshop or fiddle with its sales formula. But he said he wants to make it a more efficient, cost-effective company by exploiting production synergies with his British Home Stores retail network.