Topshop and Me: A Love Affair Through the Ages

by Christina Donoghue on 4 December 2020

Although it may not be now, Topshop was once the king of the jungle and the queen of the high street. Christina Donoghue reports on her early love for the retailer that captured the hearts of a generation.

Although it may not be now, Topshop was once the king of the jungle and the queen of the high street. Christina Donoghue reports on her early love for the retailer that captured the hearts of a generation.

I'd like to start by stating the obvious; for most of us, Brits especially, Topshop has and always will be a part of our wardrobe, whether we'd like to admit it or not. It essentially defined how 'cool' you were in your school years, and maybe even did so after (depending on your age.) The bi-annual high-street sales that happened every mid-winter and summer were the most popular thing in school since the advent of the mini skirt in the 60s. Whether it be a basic peplum top circa 2010, an essential grab from the 2007 Kate Moss range or a pair of Jamie skinny jeans, everyone knows the Topshop icons and everyone, from Rihanna to your grandmother has embraced them.

Nick Knight captures Kate Moss for her 2010 Topshop collaboration

When I went to Sixth form in 2014, I can assure you – as a very young fashion follower at the time, Topshop was there for me. Sixth form at my school were the A level years, i.e. Year 12 and 13 which was followed by a dress code of 'business wear' (I still have a problem understanding this term as 'jeans' are considered to be business wear in fashion and nowhere else) but what I was sure of, is that I had entered year 12 desperate to show off my love of the New Romantic period that the Blitz kids embraced with all of my mums 80s staples (massive shoulder pads, palazzo trousers et al.) Despite the stringent code of conduct at my school in a North London suburb, I had sneakily managed to find ways to get around it by a) proving I was a die-hard fashion fan and not a basic white shirt wearing peplum skirt loving teen and b) furiously scouring the rails of the Topshop sales in Oxford street every time they happened. Throughout those last two years of my school life, I found solace in Topshop unique, comfort in finding a Kate Moss collaboration piece in a charity shop and sheer joy in watching the Topshop shows at London Fashion Week. Topshop had become part of me, part of my identity and – before I was conscious of the ever-growing problem of fast fashion – I would've defended the high street retailer with my life (Still would to be honest, minus the catastrophic Philip Green hiccups.)

Nick Knight captures Kate Moss for her 2010 Topshop collaboration

My love of fashion that eventually saw me graduate from one of the world's leading fashion schools - as much as I'd hate to admit - probably started with my discovery of a very small Topshop store located in my local town centre. At the time I didn't really care much for history (I was only around 9) but, since my interest in fashion has picked up significantly, it is worth noting that the brand boats quite an impressive history from mini-skirt legend Mary Quant to the backing of London Fashion Week's NEWGEN; Topshop was more than just another retail store, it was the holy grail of the high street playground.

Founded in Sheffield and London in 1964, Topshop (branded then as Top Shop) originally was an internal label that made up part of Peter Robinson's department store chain. The department store was acquired by the Burton group in 1974, which is now known as the famed Philip Green-owned Arcadia group (yes the one that has just gone into administration.) Since the early days, the then small-scale label was already establishing a reputation for itself attracting attention from emerging designers of the period, most notably, queen of the mini-skirts and 60s icon, Mary Quant. It's also worth mentioning that the buyer of Peter Robinson's Top shop was a woman named Diane Wadey who had quite the reputation for scouting young talents at the time. It was Wadey who put Jeff Cooper and Ronnie Stirling with young Royal College of Art graduate, Jane Whiteside, and the Stirling-Cooper brand they set up together was initially only sold exclusively in those Top Shop spaces. Thanks to the young and hip-swinging London of the 1960s Top Shop undisputedly thrived, providing the latest fashions to the coolest youngsters. During the 1980s and 1990s, Topshop's popularity swayed until the arrival of Jane Sheperdson - a woman who's to thank for the high street store becoming the trendiest retailer of the early 21st century. Working with Topshop's then creative director, Ronnie Cooke-Newhouse, the pair brought in the hottest photographers and the hottest new faces.

Nick Knight captures Kate Moss for her 2010 Topshop collaboration

In 2001, NEWGEN announced that Topshop would replace M&S to become the new sponsor to London Fashion Week's New Generation awards. This accolade saw Topshop responsible for handing out grants of between £5000 and £15,000 to up and coming designers, that would therefore show that season as part of LFW. At this point, past chosen designers of the New Generation scheme already included Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Julien Macdonald and Matthew Williamson - a pretty impressive and boastful list - this was undeniably a massive feat for Topshop, propelling them on a fast-track to stardom.

The noughties and 2010s, may not precisely be a period famed for its incredible fashion taste, but one thing is for sure - those years were iconic. The Topshop collaborations seemed to get bigger and better; which saw queues form and crowds gather in their hundreds. The retailer collaborated with everyone from Kate Moss (if you're old enough to remember her 2007 line that featured an array of waistcoats and tophats which had everyone walking around like a mini magician, you're a real one) to Christopher Kane. Mary Katrantzou to Marques'Almeida, Richard Nicoll to Jonathan Saunders and Ashish to Meadham Kirchoff. The legendary Paolo Roversi shot the brand's A/W 06 campaign and SHOWstudio's Nick Knight shot Kate Moss for her S/S 2010 collaboration. Its name was scattered over the pages of Vogue, stars wore custom-made additions at the Met Gala and the Topshop catwalk shows - that featured as part of London Fashion Week - showed off the brand's high-end line, Unique, seeing models such as Cara Delevigne and Jourdan Dunn parade down its runway regularly. The fact alone that Topshop had its own show as part of the London Fashion Week schedule was revolutionary, and it meant that it was the first and only retailer to be accepted by the high-flying fashion crowd. Prices remained reasonable and accessible and to put it mildly, nowhere else was like it. Even H&M collaborations were never as special and to most, didn't even compare - in style or quality.

Topshop Unique A/W 16 Runway show

I think it's important to note that I, and many others, don't long for the Topshop of today. We mourn for the Topshop of yesterday, the one that I saw a friend in a decade ago, the Topshop I would find in charity shops that dated back to the 90s and noughties, the Topshop my mum fondly recalls. The Topshop today died a while ago – the Topshop then will live on in mine and the memories of others for years to come. Isaac Newton's famous words, 'all that goes up comes down' rings true for the inevitable fall that eventually follows most brands losing popularity for one reason or another. Topshop's heyday is no longer, and it's not exactly a lie to admit it hasn't been so for a while, whether you want to blame it on Philip Green's direction of the high street mecca from 2001 onwards, (just as the brand's ex-director, Jane Shepherdson does) or the recent push for sustainability in fashion that has successfully persuaded many to be more conscious of their buying habits, pushing young teens away from the once buzzing high street. It would be silly to not pay tribute to the joy that Topshop has brought thousands of young girls from all different generations over the last five decades. Topshop stole my heart when I was a teenager, and I will be forever grateful for its impact regardless of what the future of the once much-loved brand looks like.



Kate Moss for Topshop

18 May 2010
For her S/S 10 collaboration with Topshop, Kate Moss tapped Nick Knight to shoot the dreamy collection.
Fashion Film

Fashion Film: Kate Moss for Topshop S/S 10

02 November 2010
Nick Knight directs Kate Moss in a hazy sixties-inspired video for her S/S 10 Topshop collection.

Topshop Unique A/W 16

19 February 2016
Topshop Unique team tapped Knight and SHOWstudio to capture all the front-row drama and behind-the-scenes prep using Instagram, GoPros, Periscope and 3D scanning.
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