The High End of Fast Fashion

April 14, 2009

I walked down Broadway on the hunt for the biggest store to hit New York in years since, well… H&M. But before I would see Topshop, the fast fashion phenomenon from the UK, I knew I would see what every news article mentioned first, THE LINE. Yep. There it was, tourists and locals alike, waiting patiently like club goers for the doorman to lift the velvet rope and let them into the heart and soul of London’s underground style.

Fast fashion has been sweeping America for the last few years. First there was Zara, then H&M, and now Topshop. Long coveted by style-conscious women around the globe, the London flagship location welcomes 200,000 shoppers weekly. Topshop has been plotting its move to America for awhile; starting with dropping its much hyped Kate Moss line in Barneys Co-op and then offering US customers e-commerce through the Topshop website, and finally, after much anticipation, a store in New York City’s Soho.




So what’s the verdict? With 28,000 square feet of selling space filled with unambiguously fashion forward merchandise, a trip to Topshop is not for the fashion faint-hearted. We can’t all look like Kate Moss, but thanks to Topshop, some of us can look like we are cool enough to hang out with her; or that we just stumbled out of a London club at 4am. Just like any fast fashion store, only those with a true eye for quality and style will be able to zero in on the pieces that offer the best value for the money.

You might think this is another H&M. Not so fast. Topshop has a High/Low pricing strategy that is unlike H&M and offers a bargain for the higher-end customer looking to trade-down or the budget-conscious fashionista looking to trade up. Fast fashion offers the best design, if not always the best quality, for the money.

Topshop’s High/Low strategy is obvious in not only quality and price, but the overall value equation of the merchandise, albeit unevenly. For instance, a faux-leather Chanel look-alike clutch with a quality much the same as a $20 one at H&M, is priced at $48. Not a high value. However, a studded real-leather clutch sold for $125 is indistinguishable from a designer bag that could have cost $400, giving it an unquestionably high value. I found the same scenario continually played out at Topshop; the higher the cost of the merchandise, the better the value.

So how far up does Topshop go? A short, sequined dress, by far the hottest dress in the whole store, and the one most likely to make you feel like Kate Moss, costs $250. The long version? $600 and worth every penny. A ballet flat that is a dead ringer for the popular Repetto line is $40 but seems like it would only last three wearings on the streets of New York City. A ballet flat from the Office line is $100 and on par with what one would find from Barneys Co-op.

Just like H&M, Topshop has guest designers in their “Boutique” section. This is where the value equation of Topshop becomes confusing. A color-blocked dress from Jonathon Saunders ready-to-wear line could cost up to $1485 from One from Topshop will only run you about $170 but the fabric feels so cheap I wouldn’t buy it regardless of price. In another area of the store, $250 will buy either an inexpensive-looking suede jacket or a fabulous fringe suede dress that would get you through any velvet rope from here to London.

With over 2,000 stock-keeping units in the store at any one time, variety and newness is the secret of their success but only if you want that variety and newness to be in the form of fashion forward. Although the savvy shopper could discern a few non-descript enough jackets that could be worn to work, the majority of these clothes will only be worn to the office if you are in the fashion or recording industries. Which brings me to the lower-level men’s department, called TopMan. Don’t even think about leading your Brooks Brothers wearing boyfriend down the escalator. Bright colors and patterns, skinny cuts and accessories, including jewelry, define this line.

So the question is, “Will it play in Peoria?” Stores like H&M have been able to thrive in different US markets due to their low prices and styles appropriate for a broad range of customers. Topshop’s demographic has less to do with age or income than an all out appetite for the latest, most outré fashions. So is Topshop worth a trip to New York? It all depends on your passion for fashion as well as your budget.


Lani Rosenstock has been practicing her blend of fashion guidance, tempered with a dose of sisterly love, in New York City for ten years. Advising personal and corporate clients, she recently expanded her business to Washington, DC.



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