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Topshop isn’t about to alter its formula for its U.S. debut, despite some anxiety as a result of construction delays, logistical complexities and the weakening economy.
This story first appeared in the February 17, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That assurance came from Topshop’s flamboyant owner Sir Philip Green, in an interview at Gramercy Park Hotel on Monday, where he outlined plans for the trendy U.K.-based chain’s first U.S. store: a 40,000-square-foot flagship set to open April 2 at 478 Broadway in SoHo.
Green said building the store, at a cost of $20 million to $25 million, has been “a slightly tortured process” and “more effort than acquiring a company.” Yet he emphasized consistency in the strategy, which entails providing newness via almost weekly shipments, a wide range of items covering the wardrobe, value as defined by “designer looks” at moderate to better prices, and amenities more apt to be seen at luxury stores including style advisers and the Topshop To Go mobile home shopping service.
Then there’s his “no sale” policy, he told WWD. “This is going to be all about content — great product.”
Topshop can drive business without heavy discounting, Green said, noting that when the retailer did run a sale the week after Christmas, “Seventy percent of the product we sold was at full price anyway. It was our biggest week in our history.”
The key is fresh deliveries — about 150 items every seven to 10 days are being promised for SoHo, compared with 300 or so weekly at its London flagship. “We have the network to do that,” Green said. “Consumers will see very regular newness. We pride ourselves on having a world-class global supply network. We have people traveling 24/7 around the globe, and our own in-house design.”
Depending on the item, there could be anywhere from 200 to 10,000 sku’s in stock. But regardless of what it is: “We want to sell out and sell out quickly,” said Mary Homer, Topshop’s managing director. “If it’s gone in a week, that’s great.”
As far as the styles and sizes offered in the U.S. “We’ve done a lot of testing over the last year. We are not going to change anything,” Green stated.
The U.K.-based retailer, among the world’s largest private fashion chains with about $1.8 billion in annual volume, is also banking on Kate Moss. For the third consecutive year, Moss has an exclusive line at Topshop this season. Green said she will attend the SoHo opening.
He cited other exclusive “ranges” in the store, including a new line launching April 28 from Barbara Hulanicki, founder of the famed Biba collection, and currently an interior designer in Miami.
Topshop also features the in-house designed Hope and Glory group inspired by British post-war nostalgia, eccentric country dressing, knickerbockers and nods towards the Edwardian dandy; the Memphis group of rodeo-inspired embellished pieces, with studded splatter-bleached denim jeans, HotPants, Mexican-style embroidering and cowboy shirts, and the Nouveau Sport urban sportswear group with billowy tops, luxurious silk harem pants and plastic space age platforms.
Green also hopes to showcase one or two young American designers in the store and work with established designers such as Diane Von Furstenberg and the CFDA in the selection process.
While focused on SoHo, it’s not too soon for Green to be thinking about a North America rollout, though no additional units have been determined. “I don’t think we are going to be overly aggressive,” Green said. “Twelve to 15 flagships — that’s sort of my thinking. We are not thinking several hundred outlets….I like Miami. Los Angeles is OK. Las Vegas would be good. I think we will go to Boston. Maybe we need another store in New York,” possibly Fifth Avenue. But no other real estate is set at this point.
Canada, he added, “is on our radar.” Even with the economy tanking, real estate prices dropping, Green advised that “Even in a market like this, great locations are never cheap.”
A rollout depends on the performance of Topshop in SoHo, and Green is determined to get the logistics right, he said. It’s been the downfall of several other British retailers that have opened in the U.S. and withdrew not long after. With Topshop entering the U.S., comparisons to other chains known for fashion at mainstream prices are inevitable. Asked how Topshop differentiates from Target, Green replied, “I would say…fashion…. Is that horribly rude? We’re a leader in delivering content, delivering trend. We want to own our own content. We never do anything for money specifically. We want to make money, but we do it in our own way. Target is selling a different market. It’s not where our business is.”
Still, Green considers all fashion retailers competition in one way or another. H&M and Forever 21 are strong competitors, though Topshop is priced about 20 percent higher than H&M and 25 percent above Forever 21. Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, Banana Republic and Anthropologie are heavily on Topshop’s radar, Homer noted.
“We have a broad customer base, from 15- to 50-year-olds,” she said. “It’s an awful cliché, but fashion is ageless. We firmly believe that.”