“Meet me outside old Topshop” is going to be the thing going forward, which in itself will signify the gaping hole the high street giant will leave in its demise. We didn’t even have to specify the location because we knew which Topshop location became such a cult for meet ups.
I am an Oxford Street girl at heart, that mess of a west end that became part of social culture especially growing up in North West London with a tube line straight to Central, shout out to the Bakerloo line massive.
Topshop was a staple in some of the most memorable times growing up in London. If we wanted fresh fashion it was the first shop to check. Raving on the weekend? Topshop had something even if half the girls in the club would be dressed in something or everything from Topshop. It was where we met up on a Saturday afternoon for a spot of shopping, popped into Miss Selfridge next door, before going for a Costa or into Starbucks for its over priced lattés. It was where we waited in the cold, dressed flimsily waiting for our taxis to pick us up after a night out in Hanover grand or some such, or running past, legging it to catch the last tube home. It was all encompassing you see; one of the first retailers to embrace the in-store experience proper before that really became a thing outside of the department stores, a place you could get your hair and nails done and shop for knickknacks, as well as get a bad boy outfit for a Friday night and Saturday brunch. No two Topshop outfits were alike even if they were the exact same thing, because everyone put their own spin on it and there was a camaraderie when you saw another girl dressed in the same Topshop outfit as you, whether we were sat side by side on the tube, standing in a packed bus, at work etc. We were all Topshop girls. There was no other retail shop quite like it in Central. The accessories game was killer, the coats were fire! the shoe salon on the lower ground floor was an experience in itself, and it managed to make most every trend look fashionable.
So what happened?
It simple really, Topshop never really grew up with us.
We became women and the retailer struggled to evolve with the clientele instead, it stayed trying to get into the pockets of millennials who did not grow up with her the way we did, therefore lacked that unique affinity for her. Topshop’s decline did not start with this pandemic however, it simply revealed the underlying weakness some of us saw coming. The first sign of a decline in Topshop’s popularity was during Kate Moss’ Sophomore collection, as opposed to the freshman outing, the second collection launched with a lot less bang and pizzaz. The inaugural collection was epic, I was there, in the thick of the crowd watching Kate Moss in the window as she posed, ever the icon. Its hard to imagine that happening in this pandemic age, isn’t it?!
Topshop was that girl in the club, the coolest and we were all the coolest in our Topshop moto jeans. Only, the retailer never wanted to leave the club, it didn’t stick with us as we forged our careers paths with better spending power. In its dogged quest to remain hip and young, it slipped and Zara slid in to fill the gap, along with its terrible service, and was able to garner a percentage of our earnings and build better brand affinity. Zara gets it consistently right by growing along with its audience and recognising the many facets of a woman’s life. From Trafaluc, to Basic, to Woman; a mother and daughter can shop in Zara without feeling like they are in each other’s wardrobes. Same thing with Anthropologie, who evolved past urban outfitters with its youthful, quirky energy, to become a place for women who are in a particular stage in their lives, in their own homes, a particular savvy yet distinguished style. I recognise that woman because I am that woman; the Topshop girl grown up.
Online was another struggle for Topshop as it lagged behind in the pivot to an online presence where brands like Zara and ASOS upped the ante. It relied too much on our presence investing money on in-store experience and whilst that was fun, almost like going into a retail club house, there is only so much fun outside of the comfort of homes. A place that looked more appealing with the onset of the online shopping world; an early night, endless browsing whilst nursing a glass of something fine. Topshop never really matured past WKD.
Furthermore, we evolved into a band of savvy shoppers, sustainability and responsibility dominated the retail conversation and we have become a generation willing to invest a little bit more with fashion retailers with better ethical standards. So what will the British high street look like once this pandemic is over? If it is ever over? It’ll be a sight for sore eyes because we would have lost a great piece of British history and that’s the saddest part of the story. Topshop was one of the last great British hold out in stand-alone retailer and now she is no more.