At Topshop’s debut in New York last week, Drapers asked owner Sir Philip Green about his appetite for US success
Jennifer Lopez, Debbie Harry and many of New York’s ‘socialites’ were papped there, while US Vogue editor Anna Wintour made the statutory five-minute appearance before heading off from whence she came. The occasion was the pre-opening shopping event at Topshop in New York earlier this month, the night before the official opening, and the guest list confirmed that this was a hotter ticket than any show on nearby Broadway.
Two weeks on, Arcadia Group owner Sir Philip Green has his Gotham outpost, but the work of turning this from a lower Manhattan curiosity into a business that is in the US for the long haul has just begun. Even getting to this point has been a project of monumental proportions that has taken 15 months.
But it appears to have been worth it if the press plaudits are anything to go by, and it was hard to find anybody in SoHo, the location of this 40,000sq ft store, not excited by Topshop’s arrival.
All of which Green seemed to take in his stride, although he could not resist recounting an anecdote to Drapers about an event that took place 24 hours ahead of the store’s opening. “Let’s assume half the people here talk bullshit and half talk the truth. There was a meeting that started at 8am this morning of all the major retailers in America. And I got an email three minutes after [the meeting] started telling me that someone [at it] had said ‘If you haven’t been to Broadway, go and see how to retail’,” he recalls.
As a business Topshop continues to produce recession-busting figures, according to Green. And the New York store stands as evidence that this is a retail brand on the threshold of becoming a truly international force, rather than just a powerful UK brand that operates franchises internationally.
Mary Homer, managing director at Topshop, says the prep work is done and the next stage of the retailer’s evolution is underway. “We are hopefully now in a position to be a worldwide brand,” she says. “We probably trade in about 25 countries from 130 stores as franchises, but what we want to do is to have flagship stores, wholly owned by us, because we’re control freaks.”
She adds: “It was always our mission to be able to have a flagship in all key fashion cities.”
Homer adds that despite a fair proportion of ‘retail for rent’ signs filling the windows of SoHo’s many empty units, “there is still money around.” On the assumption that she is correct, a trip to 487 Broadway, the store’s address, should provide plenty of reasons for digging into credit-crunched wallets.
The store is a show stopper. Housed in a high-ceilinged building, complete with cast iron Ionic pillars, it is an impressive structure. Inside, the selling space is arranged over four floors.
Topman is in the basement with clothing and accessories on the ground floor, a 770sq ft Kate Moss for Topshop shop-in-shop on the first floor, alongside a Moto denim department and footwear on the top floor. There are separate emerging designer areas on both the second floor and in Topman. The former is marked out by a different shopfit and boasts Topshop’s collaborative collections with Preen, Jonathan Saunders and Richard Nicoll sitting alongside the in-house Topshop Unique range and the Boutique label. Retail prices run from two T-shirts for US$20 (£13.60) up to US$600 (£205) for a Kate Moss evening dress or US$500 (£340) for a top-end Topman suit.
Green says only minor concessions have been made to the fact that this store is in North America rather than Europe. “I would say 85% is the same, but with more of a fashion edge,” he says. He points at a raspberry-coloured frill-front button-through mini-mac-cum-coat and says: “In London, this has been a massive winner. We’ll see. By Saturday night, I’ll tell you if it’s a winner here.”
Clearly, there is an element of ‘suck it and see’ about the way in which the offer has been presented to New York, but Green says Topshop is a keen student. “There’s loads of things here that we’ve probably made in the wrong place, but we have to learn what the customers [here] love,” he says.
Green says the size and scale of the Arcadia “engine” that backs the project is a guarantee of success. He also points out there has been strong support from Topshop suppliers. “Just because of how important we are. They will do it because they don’t know the scale of the opportunity either. Everybody’s prepared to come to the party because they know what this could be,” he says.
At the pre-opening event, the Kate Moss range proved a major draw, garnering 20% of sales that were rumoured to be north of US$50,000 (£34,000) in two hours.
But the question on most observers’ lips was what Green would do next. Homer was forthright: “We’ve come here to trade across the US.” Green was more cautious: “There are lots of options, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
For the moment at least, Topshop is the major draw for Manhattan’s fashion shoppers and this store stands as “a statement of intent”, as Green puts it. The store is about half the size of the London Oxford Circus behemoth, but its Union Jack-festooned presence goes a long way towards lighting up a beleaguered New York retail scene.
Topshop, New York
- Address 487 Broadway (located on Broadway and Broome Street)
- Size 40,000sq ft
- Selling space Topshop 18,000sq ft, Topman 6,500sq ft
- Selling floors Basement (Topman), ground, first and second (all Topshop)
- Pre-opening night VIP event guests Jennifer Lopez, Debbie Harry, Harvey Weinstein, Kelly Klein
- Prices US$12 (£13.60) to US$600 (£340)
- Store design Dalziel & Pow