Topshop’s three-floor store with a top-end fit-out is set to give its famous Knightsbridge neighbour a run for its money.
It’s a little over a year since Sir Philip Green made his first inroad into the US with a store in lower Manhattan. At the time it was greeted with enthusiasm by those who visited and was seen as a reasonable statement of the best that the mid-market has to offer in terms of a fashion environment.
Fast forward a year and a bit and those who follow such things may find themselves in London’s Knightsbridge, home, since last Friday, to a new and certainly different version of the cash conscious fashion follower’s emporium of choice. And Arcadia’s management seem pleased with what has been done at the three-floor, 15,000 sq ft location.
However, before attempting to describe what has been created pause for a few moments to consider the area that Green and the Topshop powers that be have decided is right for them.
Knightsbridge has traditionally been considered among the capital’s most upscale destinations and, in spite of incursions made by fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M, it has done a pretty good job of remaining that way. At the heart of it all is Harrods, now the bauble of a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund and seen by many as having rather more to do with the Gulf than with what goes on in London.
Nonetheless, Harrods’ influence on fashion shoppers shouldn’t be ignored and the Way In fashion floor has long been recognised as one of the places to head for if upscale fashion clothing is on the menu.
Looked at this way, Topshop is something of an arriviste: a fashion upstart beaming down in the middle of a very grand address. Why, therefore, has the mid-market retailer decided this is the place to set up shop? The answer to an extent probably lies in the brand’s classless appeal as a purveyor of clothing to princesses and paupers alike.
Topshop has, in fact, signed a 10-year turnover lease on a building that had been empty for a considerable time, from which it is reasonable to infer that it was in its interests to conclude matters at a pace. And having done so, it now has possession of a store that is more or less bang opposite Harrods and which is set to give this London retail grande dame a run for its money.
There is also the matter of store profiling. At 15,000 sq ft, this is a store that is less than a sixth of the size of the Oxford Circus giant and which is likely to welcome an almost entirely different customer. “I think we’ll get a lot of customers from Harrods,” says Arcadia group chief executive Ian Grabiner. “It’s a more affluent customer.” He adds that the expected payback for a typical new-build Topshop is between a year and 18 months and that this branch is expected to be no different.
That said, the quality of the fit-out and the detailed nature of what has been done is such that it is unlikely that a figure of much less than £175 a square foot would have been paid in putting the store together. This would mean a total cost of more than £2.6m
to get things up and running - a lot in the general scheme of things, although relatively modest by the standards of some of its neighbours.
Stairway to heaven
The store then is at the top end of what Topshop pays for its fit-outs, and standing at the entrance and looking first ahead and then to the left, you can see why this might be the case. Initially, the thing that is likely to hit the shopper in a store that is something of a sensory overload is, perhaps surprisingly, the staircase.
This turns out by a country mile, according to Grabiner, to be the most expensive element in this shop and the most cursory examination will tell you why this might be the case. The staircase is spiral and uses steel, glass and grey tiles to create its effect. It is helped in this by the use of strips of white light emanating from inset neon tubes that have been inserted at the base of each step, fostering a rather severe glamour.
The lighting levels from each of these strips can be raised or lowered, depending on whether a full-on party-like atmosphere is required or whether it’s a simple matter of tripping the light fantastic.
And on the wall behind it, in place of the London memorabilia graphic that was used in New York, is a scene depicting fashion devotees that perhaps those frequenting this store might wish they resembled.
The staircase is also something of a departure from multi-floor Topshop norms, which would usually feature escalators. It also formed part of the blueprint that creative director Tim Whitmore and design team manager Jamieson Innes put to Grabiner when the decision to take the design process in-house was taken at the end of 2009. Whitmore says that this involved a detailed outline of how the Dalziel + Pow store concept that was unveiled in New York could be moved on.
At the other end of the ground floor there is what is known internally as “the spike”. This is a good description of a feature that starts as a circular padded silver banquette in the basement and rises up through holes in the floor and ceiling of the ground floor, to reach the top of the shop. It serves no purpose other than to catch the eye, and at this level is a show-stopper. It is angular, mirrored and has a multifaceted form.
From a visual merchandising perspective, this is about making sure that there is a central feature that will impart the sense of being in a fashion store. But in case there is any doubt, you might also consider the exposed brick walls, used in the window, the ground floor and the basement and the white, bri-nylon voile screen that forms the backdrop to the denim shop on the first floor and elsewhere.
However, it is perhaps the basement that demands the most attention. This is the area of the shop that is devoted to shoes and skimpy looking knitted and T-shirt tops. But it is the shoes that really capture the eye. This looks a much more committed showing than the New York Shoe Lounge. In Knightsbridge, a simple neon sign stating “Shoes” is used, with another bearing the letters KG close at hand.
It takes no time whatsoever to work out that this is a cipher for Kurt Geiger, as most of the merchandise on the shelves around the perimeter at the furthest remove from the staircase bears the brand’s name. It is worth noting that ‘KG’ also runs the shoe shops across the street in Harrods, where it is rumoured to have garnered £51m in the past year.
This department is exactly what you’d hope for and expect of a Topshop: sassy, glitzy and ever-so-slightly bling. Perfect for its market.
The ground floor, according to Whitmore, is aimed at the “techno traveller”, a shopper who prefers the involved printed garments that are in vogue and who, erm, travels a lot, apparently. And while on this level, it’s hard not to notice the floor itself - formed of large, slate grey, slick and metropolitan tiles.
As well as the denim shop, the top floor is home to the more exclusive emerging designers that are given floorspace in a handful of Topshop stores, including New York.
Overall, as an interpretation of what was done in New York, this is a cleaner execution and, as Whitmore puts it, a somewhat “edgier” store. Grabiner says that although there are a number of features that are specific to this store, between 60% and 70% of what is on view will be taken forward to forthcoming stores such as Bath and One New Change, in the City, later this year.
The young fashion department at Harrods must be watching this one with a mixture of fear mingled, perhaps, with a certain admiration.
- Location Brompton Road
- Size 15,000 sq ft
- Number of floors Three
- Store design Tim Whitmore and Jamieson Innes
- Modelled on the New York SoHo store
- Most outstanding design feature The ‘spike’