STRUGGLING UK retailers beware. This US interest in Sir Philip’s Topshop empire shouldn’t be read as a vote of confidence in Britain’s beleaguered high street. No – this is a vote of confidence in one man (and his family business) alone. Topshop’s meteoric rise over the past 15 years or so from identikit high street store to fashion-forward design destination has quite rightly attracted the attention of international money – and I’d struggle to think of another brand with quite the same profile.
Part of this is down to the internet’s effect on shopping. When the high street went high fashion and celebrities wore Topshop on the red carpet, the whole world could see what they were missing. Arcadia capitalised on the demand by introducing international shipping from Topshop’s UK site, followed by a US website in 2008, then a star-studded New York store launch in 2009.
A lot of this success has been down to relationships that Sir Philip himself has built. First, Jane Shepherdson rose through the ranks and is credited with turning the brand around, with profits growing from £9m to £110m during the eight years she spent as creative director.
He followed that with a major fashion coup – bringing in model Kate Moss to design a collection – and he recently lured Kate Phelan from British Vogue to be the store’s creative director.
Now it seems another Sir Philip relationship is coming to fruition. J Crew boss Millard “Mickey” Drexler and the UK retail tycoon last crossed paths in public at September’s World Retail Congress, and the former Gap boss is surely the missing link between Sir Philip and his US suitors. Back in the UK, it’s telling that Topshop and Topman have been ringfenced from the rest of Arcadia. Though it doesn’t break down profits, Topshop is without a doubt the jewel in Sir Philip’s crown. In holding onto 75 per cent of it he’s keeping a firm hand on the direction that its US growth could take. Judging on his track record so far, that’s no bad thing.