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Topman, Oxford Circus

Bigger, louder and edgier  than what it replaces, the new Topman flagship at Oxford Circus ups the ante for men’s young fashion in the capital.

Ask anybody with youth on their side who’s up in London for a day to do a little shopping as to where might be a good place to convene and the answer is likely to be: “Why don’t we meet at Topshop Oxford Circus?” The interesting point is that even if the parties involved are male, the answer may well be the same, yet it is pretty unlikely that a meeting
at Topman Oxford Circus will have been mooted.

As of last week, however, things may be changing. Topman, access to which has always been via the up escalator to the right of the main Topshop entrance, now has two floors. The effect of this has been a doubling of the floorspace, the introduction of a host of new brands and a retail offer that, while it may still be a junior partner to Topshop in terms of space, now punches above its weight in terms of store environment.

“The store’s 12,000 sq ft on each floor,” says Topman brand director David Shepherd. Standing on the lower of the two levels, he continues: “We lost a tiny little bit at the back, but then we gained the whole of upstairs.”

Shepherd says it’s a year since he walked the upper floor, which used to be buying offices, in the company of Arcadia chief operating officer Ian Grabiner and owner Sir Philip Green.

Now all traces of what was in place before have vanished, a hole has been carved in the floor to allow the insertion of a bank of escalators, and the Topman offer has been dissected, with casual fashion on the lower level and tailored clothes upstairs.

A number of the elements of this Topman landscape are attributable to the New York store that opened in April, where Topman is in the basement. Things have moved on since then and shoppers visiting this part of the Topshop/Topman experience will find something that may reflect those roots, but which is also a big step forward.

Key looks and merchandise mix

“We wanted to bring in zones and to bring in some different wall treatments,” says Shepherd. On the lower of the two floors, this means there is a central area, fenced off by glass walls to which decals have been applied, which is home to as many variations on the check shirt as you can shake a stick at. Plain T-shirts follow from here to the back wall, with an opening “two for £10” offer leading to a denim area, called, in case of doubt, “denim shop”. For shoppers with fat wallets there are also Paige Premium Denim jeans at close to £170 a pair.

As in the New York store, there is a “red room” – a repository for a complete own-buy package where co-ordinating separates combine to create what, in other arenas, might be called a lifestyle area. Own buy in fact accounts for about 75% of the Topman offer, according to Shepherd. The rest is broadly made up of branded concessions, including an Office footwear department on the upper level and an area selling limited edition Converse All Stars trainers and baseball boots.

On the store’s upper level the tailored range is broad, rising to up to £300 for a jacket with high fashion elements, such as tie-neck fine-gauge knitwear, which is co-ordinated alongside more structured garments. The Topman Ltd range, a more avant-garde offer, has been given its own area towards the back.

Score 8/10

Visual merchandising

Fashion relies upon the art of the visual merchandiser to create impact and Topman has been hard at work. Whether it’s the smaller-scale elements, such as the red and grey heads with sunglasses and Inca-style headgear above the accessories area, or a cluster of mid-shop mannequins, hands on sassy hips, the impression given is of a brand confident in its own identity.

The mid-shop equipment also helps. The rails, many of which have square frames surrounding their display arms, do a good job of disguising the fact that this may be a high fashion operation, but it is also about volume selling, for the most part. And indeed, the bulk of the merchandise on both floors has been hung rather than laid, meaning that maintaining housekeeping standards should be more straightforward as peak trading approaches. It would also be hard to miss the stairs at the back of both floors, which are a homage to fashionable indie bands and display a mini-gallery complete with day-glo guitars. 

Score 7/10

Service

If you’re male and need to feel that you’re in the fashion loop, this is the place. Even if this is not the case, there are a lot of staff whose appearance alone would probably be a reasonable indication of the way fashion is headed. Should this not prove sufficient, however, there are stylists – lots of them – on hand to provide help. One of the problems of this store was that at peak it always had queues at the cash desks. Doubling the size of the retail space has also meant twice the number of cash desks and fitting rooms.

Score 7/10

Store appeal

If loud music and areas of dark and light are not your thing, move on. For most visitors, the new Topman will be more or less exactly what is sought. Design consultancy Dalziel & Pow, which worked on the New York store earlier this year and is responsible for all of this interior, has also strived to make in-store navigation simple with its signage, which is white with black semi-Edwardian font and can be found at almost every point during the store journey. As good fashion retailing should be, this is about mood-setting and the dark floors, stainless and brushed steel fixtures create an industrial ambience.

Score 8/10

Would I buy?

Yes I would – were I 20 or maybe even 30 years younger. Accepting that this is a shop that is aimed at a very specific market, it’s amazing just how in tune the brand is with its customers. The night before the revamped store opened there was a party, and from 6pm shoppers wanting to visit the two Topman floors were being politely turned away. Standing at the foot of the escalator and watching this happening it was a measure of just how ingrained the Topman brand is in the psyche of fashionable young males that the mental howls of disappointment were almost audible.

Score 8/10

Verdict

Topman comes of age at Oxford Circus with a design to rival the best of its sister Topshop’s womenswear offer. There can be little doubt this will be a success, the only question will be whether doubling the size of the offer still proves insufficient for the 100,000 customers each week who, according to Shepherd, will storm the space.

Score 38/50

Essential

Address Oxford Circus, London W1

Opened September 17, 2009

Size 24,000 sq ft across two floors

Store design  Dalziel & Pow

Merchandise split 75% own buy, 25% concessions

Top price jeans Paige Premium Denim jeans at £169

Shopfitting Patton Fit-Out

Design influence New York store on Broadway

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