The design evolution of Topshop’s US stores shows that cookie-cutter openings have no place when establishing a fashion brand internationally.

Although it doesn’t seem that long ago, half a decade has elapsed since Topshop made landfall in the US, when it opened its first store in SoHo in lower Manhattan. Times have changed since then. There’s been a financial crisis, fashion trends have come and gone and shoppers have become more generally digitally savvy in their habits.

All of which has not halted the onward march of Topshop and Topman in the US as a series of regional flagship stores have opened across the country. The latest is in Los Angeles and it welcomed its first shoppers in February, joining the stores in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. And the point perhaps about all of them is that each is different.

Guy Smith, head of design at Arcadia, says that this is not the normal way things are done. “Most brands will do a prototype, finesse it and then cookie-cutter it around the world. We have not done that,” he says.

There is also the matter of age. Now that the New York store is five years old, it is time for a change. Smith comments: “Predictably we’re now looking at how to freshen it. It won’t be a major overhaul, but a possible extension of the space on the third floor means that we’ll do something new at the same time. Five years is a long time in our business and even more so in that part of the world.”

Localising the look

And if a shopper were to visit each of the US stores, a progression would be evident but, in each instance, the store that has been opened is largely a response to the local environment.

The first to open post New York was the Chicago branch, in September 2011, and it is substantially different from the SoHo original.

Located on the city’s North Michigan Avenue, Smith says that the underlying intention was to “own the street”.

That was achieved with a store that has a massive “blocky” feel to it, as Smith puts it, with a shopfront that sticks out in the kink midway along the long, upscale street.

The shop is a three-floor, 29,000 sq ft glass and black steel structure with an almost mid-century modernist feel to it - perfect for the setting in which it is located.

On to Vegas, which Smith says was “something quite different because it’s in a mall”. The single-floor store has a 170ft-long frontage, imposing itself upon the shopping centre’s interior, and along with three main entrances there is a fourth at the rear.

“Substantially, the step-change that occurred between Chicago and Las Vegas was that we began to soften things,” says Smith. That meant the introduction of timber as part of the materials palette and it involved playing with the graphics package as the Vegas store does not have the triple-height atrium that lent the Chicago store its particular character.

Los Angeles was different again. “Every single feature was changed,” says Smith. “The aspiration was to get something that would still be edgy and exciting and intensely fashionable, but also a little bit softer again.

That was realised with cleaner shapes and a cooler in-store colour palette. The Los Angeles shopfront, which takes pride of place in The Grove - a fashionable, palm tree-fringed retail and entertainment complex - is more detailed and delicate, according to Smith.

White fins form a gentle curve around the front of the store, while within it’s a mix of highly polished concrete and white-oiled oak on the floor. The latter provides a matt finish to the flooring but it looks like bleached timber. “We did this throughout the ground floor,” says Smith.

Creating different rooms

As far as layout is concerned, Topshop occupies the whole of the ground floor and half of the first floor in this 25,000 sq ft store, and Topman takes the remainder of the first floor space. Smith says that, unlike previous stores, the Los Angeles interior is about a series of “rooms”.

“What we’ve done here is treat the store almost like a motor show where you go from one massive stand to another,” he says.

This translates as rooms that have a permanent feel to them, such as a brick and steel space on the ground floor on the perimeter, while one of the mid-shop spaces carries with it almost the sense of a temporary installation.

The installation space, also on the ground floor, is in effect a trend room, but Smith is quick to make the point that “we’re not marrying the treatment to a room and the stock that goes into it. This is about being flexible in the store. So we are not, for instance, creating dedicated denim spaces.”

What is also interesting is that elements of what has been done in the US stores have been making their way back to the UK as refurbishments, such as the one at Lakeside, are undertaken.

This is about learning lessons internationally and then applying them back home, as well as a continuous process of store design evolution. In times of relative austerity, the temptation for any retailer must be to create a store template and stick with it. The design team at Arcadia appears to feel that this is not a way to foster goodwill as far as the brand is concerned, and that Topshop shoppers should be entitled to expect something a bit different whenever a new store opens.

Next month the first Topshop in China, in Hong Kong, opens and it seems reasonable to expect all of the stops will have been pulled out for the store design. This will be the gateway for an entry into cities such as Shanghai and perhaps Beijing and it also seems fair to suppose that the evolutionary progress that has been evident in the US will be mirrored in the Far East.

The best evolutions in store design are about constant reinvention, without losing the sense of what the brand is about. Topshop continues to show how this can be a reality and why a good in-house team that understands the DNA of its brand can build and build.

Topshop, Los Angeles

Opened February

Size 25,000 sq ft

Store design In-house

Ambience A response to its location