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Topshop’s Lofty Status

LONDON — There’s no stopping Topshop, the fashion retail emporium that attracts four times as many visitors than The Tower of London.<br><br>Once a dull, teen-focused clothing store, Topshop, which attracts 180,000 visitors each week, is...

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LONDON — There’s no stopping Topshop, the fashion retail emporium that attracts four times as many visitors than The Tower of London.

This story first appeared in the February 26, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Once a dull, teen-focused clothing store, Topshop, which attracts 180,000 visitors each week, is now a fashion source for designers, stylists and celebrities, including Madonna, Kate Moss, Liv Tyler and Cher.

Jane Shepherdson, Topshop’s brand manager and a driving force behind the store’s transformation over the past five years, said Topshop has been built on daring and attitude.

“Over the past three years, we have become much less cautious,” she said in a phone interview. “We act on our gut instincts and sometimes we do things we don’t think will make money, but we know are right for the brand.”

A case in point is Boutique, an area on the lower ground floor that stocks collections by designers, including Sophia Kokosalaki, Hamish Morrow and Russell Sage, exclusive to Topshop. It also sells an in-house line called Unique, designed by Topshop’s team.

Shepherdson and her team originally envisioned Boutique as a special design feature within the store and never thought it would generate substantial sales. While the privately owned Topshop does not reveal sales figures, Shepherdson said the area is making “a lot” of money. Industry sources estimate that Topshop’s annual sales are about $525 million.

Topshop has just revamped its Boutique area, with help from the London-based architectural design duo Shummon Basar and Joshua Bolchever, as reported. Dazed & Confused fashion editor Alister Mackie oversaw the merchandising and each month the store will invite a new fashion stylist to change the merchandising scheme.

Another key ingredient in Topshop’s success has been its vision of shopping as entertainment. The store has created a club atmosphere, setting up its own TV and radio station. All day long, shoppers listen to mix of music and chatter from the speakers and video screens posted around the store.

It also stages occasional fashion events — the next being a runway show to showcase the spring-summer range in association with British Elle magazine. The store also offers a free personal shopping service and VIP dressing rooms.

“We’ve made huge leaps in the last three years, as far as the image of Topshop is concerned,” Shepherdson said. “We target 18- to 30-year-old, opinionated, cutting-edge, fashion cognoscenti. However, our market stretches from 12- to 45-years old.”

The 65,000-square-foot flagship in Oxford Circus — by far the most stylish of Topshop’s 333 units worldwide — spans three floors. The ground floor showcases accessories and the lower two floors stock women’s wear.

Each week, the store receives around 300 new sku’s from its 200 collections, which include Bling Bling (glamorous clubwear), Modette (designs influenced by the Sixties and Seventies), Utility (military-style pieces), Moto-Sno (outerwear) and Freestyle (an Aertex-based collection).

Seven full-time designers work from the pattern-design room above the store and three more are employed on a rotating freelance basis. “We always like to have fresh blood and new ideas,” said Shepherdson.

While there are no current plans to move Topshop to the U.S., the chain is expanding, with a flagship opening in Birmingham this fall.

Topshop first opened in 1964, as a concession in a small department store in Sheffield in northern England. A division of the U.K.’s Arcadia clothing group, it was purchased last fall by the entrepreneur Philip Green, who has since pulled Arcadia off London’s Stock Exchange.

“There is no doubt that we know our market extremely well,” said Shepherdson. “There is a great sense of pride amongst the team and a feeling of ownership of the brand we’ve created.”

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