The story begins in Sheffield, 1964 with a small department inside the Peter Robinson store. 50 years later and this small department has grown into one of the world’s largest high street fashion stores, with approximately 300 in the UK and many more in over 20 countries worldwide.
Considering the store’s humble origins, its success is undeniable. Its current popularity, on the other hand, is much more debateable. Today, two opposing opinions ring loud and clear. The first sees Topshop as a high street/designer hybrid, and the second opinion screams ‘backlash’. This group claims Topshop has failed to establish its place among the fashion elite, but continues to charge ‘high fashion’ prices without the ‘high fashion’ standard.
In November 2010, Nottingham’s Victoria Centre Topshop hosted an event titled ‘Pop-up Magazine’ which I thought might shed some light on this debate. Listening to one of Elle’s fashion editors talk us through the latest ‘looks’ I certainly felt like a ‘high fashion’ journalist. The store presents various collections each season in the same way a designer would and these fashion lines award Topshop a level of creative direction that sets it apart from its competitors. So far, designer collections have included the creations of Swedish designer Ann-Sofie, British designer Jonathan Saunders and London-based designer Ashish, with model Kate Moss’s fourteenth and final mainline collection signalling an end to her three-year partnership with the store. such collaborations have succeeded in bringing an element of a designer’s creative input directly onto the shop floor, and put Topshop firmly on the fashion map.
In 2005, Topshop’s ‘Unique Collection’ became the first high street range to take to the catwalk as part of the official schedule of London Fashion Week. With 2010 collections well received by designers and the media alike, such praise for their in-house designs suggests that Topshop have managed to establish themselves as a major style authority, but many argue this transition has come at a cost. The Arcadia Group to which Topshop belongs, states on their website that in 1974 Topshop was ‘launched as a standalone business targeting 13 to 25-year-olds’ and in 1989 that the ‘stores are revamped with a new, more affluent customer in mind.’ Since this date, the price of Topshop’s products has continued to rise. Often justified by the improved product quality and the fact that the store now sees more designer-input, as prices soar, Topshop’s target demographic is becoming progressively convoluted.
Topshop’s rise in fashion prestige and its subsequent price inflation have undoubtedly lost the support of a large category of shoppers who have decided they will get more for their money by shopping elsewhere. On the other hand, such changes have attracted an older demographic of fashion-forward adults, who are able to afford these amplified prices. With this new target audience in mind, it doesn’t take long to see why Topshop designs have become more mature, sophisticated and often racier than a few short years ago. This change in direction would not be so problematic if it were not for the younger consumers, originally targeted, who continue to remain dedicated to their favourite fashion store. Young teenagers continue to shop at Topshop despite the fact the clothes are now pitched at a higher age group. Many of the store’s trends, such as the glamorisation of ‘heroin chic’ and last year’s figure-hugging body-cons encouraged many young girls to dress inappropriately for their age.
Most forward-thinking, fashion conscious types value the importance of individual style and want to stand out from a crowd. This becomes difficult when many younger girls are making the same statement by wearing the same thing. Among those conscious of the ‘Topshop clone’ problem, the store is seen as seriously generic and vintage boutiques and independent charity stores are enjoying a heyday as a result.
Topshop has successfully made a name for itself in the high fashion industry, but unlike high fashion designers, Topshop clothing is worn by an increasingly wide selection of society. No matter how forward-thinking and creative the designs, Topshop clothing will never enjoy the prestige associated with top-end design, and the clones will continue to multiply.