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Topshop Blows Into Chicago

The fast-fashion British retailer took its sweet time to unveil its second and largest U.S. flagship.

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CHICAGO — For Topshop, the long wait is over.

After opening its first U.S. store in New York more than two years ago, the fast-fashion British retailer took its sweet time testing the waters, waiting until Thursday to unveil its second and largest U.S. flagship along Michigan Avenue here.

But this flashy, high-profile store is no second banana, said Sir Philip Green, the owner of Arcadia Group, parent company of Topshop and its men’s sibling Topman.

“For us, this is a game changer,” Green said of the 49,000-square-foot corner building with 35,000 square feet of selling space. “It moves the brand on. This is a presence on one of the best streets in the world. It’s a statement.”

Topshop definitely made its presence known Thursday, blocking off a side street to Michigan Avenue for an outdoor fashion show that attracted a collection of onlookers three people thick snapping pictures with their cell phones. Green then christened the Topshop/Topman store with Miley Cyrus in tow before a gaggle of photographers and hundreds of eager shoppers lining the street.

Some customers, like Meredith Lee, a 24-year-old graduate student, waited two hours to be one of the first to enter the store. “It’s very exciting. I like the sparkles,” she said, spying all the sequined clothes at the store’s atrium entrance.

While Green said Topshop’s New York store on Broadway in SoHo is more of a destination, there’s no missing the Windy City Topshop/Topman flagship with its floor-to-ceiling glass-and-black-coated aluminum panel exterior and illuminated signs that pierce the city’s Magnificent Mile, particularly at night. Not to mention that the store is positioned across the street from the popular Water Tower Place shopping center, which houses Macy’s, and steps away from H&M, Giorgio Armani and Bottega Veneta.

Green, who is planning to meet this week with U.S. landlords, including one from Los Angeles, where he is close to signing a lease, said the Windy City store has become his new calling card.

“I want people to see what we’ve done,” said Green, who knows there are those who have questioned Topshop’s slow U.S. expansion, assuming weak sales in New York.

Business in New York is “OK,” he said. “It’s steady. I can’t say it’s our best location. It was a good place to start but we’ve got to be Uptown. We need to move on. This [the Chicago store] will be the catalyst.”

Green has made no secret about his desire for a more prominent New York location, but he won’t pay top dollar. “I don’t need to,” he said. “We want to be sensible.”

Sensibility, however, is not the aesthetic Topshop is known for, as evidenced by one of its best sellers — $150 barely there denim short shorts embellished with crystals. After the New York store placed four reorders for the shorts, Topshop introduced a black pair full of bling for fall, which are displayed front-and-center in Chicago.

“People aren’t coming here for T-shirts and jeans,” Green said, though shoppers may purchase those items. “People are coming here to dress up.”

Silver-and-black mannequins at the store’s front doors articulate that flamboyancy, decked out in black leather trim leggings, platform leopard booties and sequined tops. Another form features a black stretch-lace pencil skirt, faux fur leopard coat and a zebra-print top with sequin detailing. Prices range from $36 for a T-shirt to $790 for a three-quarter-length black leather jacket.

In true Topshop form, the collection of clothing will constantly change, with the store receiving 150 new lines a week. Decor reflects the urban rock ‘n’ roll vibe of the retailer’s fashions with gray slate floors, reclaimed wood shelving, brushed chrome clothing racks and neon signs. Highlights of the space include an open, airy, relaxing white- and lavender-colored, 800-square-foot personal shopping area and a sleek shoe salon complete with mirrored ceilings and mirrored shelving displaying suede platform pumps in violet, cobalt blue, teal, red, green and four different animal prints, all in front of a faint Union Jack backdrop.

Men’s wear also takes center stage as Topman fills the store’s second floor with slim-cut suiting, distinctive dress shoes and skinny denim and thin corduroy, tweed and leopard-print ties.

Compared with Topshop’s New York opening, which boasted a week’s worth of parties attracting handfuls of high-voltage celebrities and unparalleled hype, the Chicago unveiling seemed more subdued. Instead of hosting a barrage of events, Topshop activated its social media channels, creating an opening day countdown on its new Chicago Facebook page, which also tracked its Topshop truck as it traveled to college campuses distributing gift cards worth anywhere from $5 to $100. A day before the public opening, Topshop offered private VIP shopping for some 200 guests followed by a dinner at Paris Club and after party where Cyrus seemed to have the best time, dancing before her booth of friends.

Bruce Kaplan, who produces yearly studies of Michigan Avenue as senior vice president for CB Richard Ellis, said Topshop is part of a resurgence of retail along Michigan Avenue, where rents are rising back to 2001 levels. “It means a lot; it really does,” Kaplan said of the opening. “Topshop, they’re larger than life. It cements Michigan Avenue among the top two retail locations in North America.”

The Windy City launch, representing an estimated $12 million investment, coincides with ongoing expansion for Topshop, which plans to open stores in Toronto in October and Australia in December. In 2012, the retailer looks to launch in Brazil in February and unveil its third U.S. store in Las Vegas in March. All Topshops outside the U.K. are franchised except for the U.S. stores.

Ideally, Green said he would like to have eight to 10 U.S. Topshops within the next two years. “We’ve been picky,” he admitted, noting that the company has invested $1 billion to open new stores and refurbish existing ones over the last six years. “I’m not in a hurry. We don’t want to make a mistake. Taking our time, it’s the key.”

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