While most of the world obsesses over the royal family, it seems the top retailers in London have their sights set on Chicago. British shops have popped up all over the Gold Coast—L.K. Bennett, Ted Baker, AllSaints Spitalfields—but the biggest, boldest entrant is gearing up for a splashy fall arrival.
Looks from Topshop’s Fall 2011 collection
This September, Topshop (a brand that represents five percent of all women’s clothes purchased in the UK), will open its fourth-largest store in the world at 830 North Michigan Avenue, a stunning 30,000 square feet of retail space spread over three floors.
On a recent trip to London, I took a tour of their flagship. Like a visit to Harrods, a trip to Topshop Oxford Circus is a bona fide tourist must-see: at 90,000 square feet it includes a hair salon, pedicure stations and multiple mini-boutiques with major designer collaborations, such as the top-selling Kate Moss collection. Its personal shopping service elevates the experience—stars are escorted via private elevator to meet with in-house stylists, who cull their favorite pieces from the sprawling sales floor. Shoppers who want the same level of service (bonus: It’s free!) can ask for it anytime.
The Chicago store will resemble the Oxford Circus flagship, but with an updated attitude. The first floor will house the women’s line, which has an East-End-of-London-girl feel (think Sienna Miller); and a vibrant makeup collection, which includes an exclusive-to-Chicago nail polish in a steely grayblue shade called Windy City. The second floor is for Topman, the retailer’s line of slim-cut suits, logo T-shirts and colored chinos. On the basement level, shoppers will find as many as 250 styles of shoes.
Topshop’s owner, Sir Philip Green, is one of the UK’s wealthiest and most popular businessmen. He built his wealth and his reputation in retail; he estimates he’s bought and sold 5,000 stores over the last thirtysomething years, and for just under a decade he has owned Arcadia Group Limited, a fashion powerhouse comprised of more than 2,500 stores in the UK and hundreds more internationally. While there are seven megabrands in the mix, the centerpiece is the Topshop/Topman chain, which has one other US outpost, in New York City.
Sir Philip Green
Sir Philip, as most people call him, has long set his sights on further American growth. Last winter he was in New York to view storefronts on Madison Avenue when a friend convinced him to detour his plane, which was headed to Los Angeles, to see a potential site on Michigan Avenue. It was all wrong: “It’s funny, as a retailer, there could be a store available there and one there, and for some reason the eye line is better on one side than the other,” he explains. He passed on the site, then found another nearby, but the deal fell through. However, “about six weeks later, the Borders situation evolved,” Sir Philip says of the bookstore’s announcement that it was shuttering its Michigan Avenue flagship. In addition, several other retailers confided to him that Chicago has their top-three best-performing stores in the US. Sir Philip prides himself on gut decisions, and Chicago finally felt right.
Like his decision to go big in Chicago, everything in Sir Philip’s world is done with a flourish—it was fun to watch during dinner as he took phone calls from two identical cell phones. On one, he was elated to learn that another major US retail site, in Las Vegas, had been acquired for an opening next spring; on the other, he was trying to juggle attending two weddings on the same weekend. (They were the weddings of Monaco’s Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock and that of his close friend Kate Moss. The challenge was finding a spot to land his helicopter near Moss’ house in the English countryside.)
Even though he’s had such success abroad, Sir Philip is cautious about assuming that the chain’s popularity in the UK translates to America.
“There’s no point in being naïve; shopping is so easy for everybody, you don’t actually have to leave your house,” explains Sir Philip. “The theater, the service, what else you can do is really key.”
And for Chicagoans, that’s the most exciting part: We’ll soon find out the grand plans Sir Philip has in store for us this fall.