Topshop in your Tea: The Brilliance of British Fashion

In April 2009 British high street staple Topshop opened its first American store in New York to overwhelming crowds and intense excitement from fashion lovers across the Atlantic.  Despite opening store during economic doom –affecting the retail sector in particular – Topshop has proven a success in the USA and opened another store in Chicago in September 2011, rumoured to be part of 12-15 planned openings.

So what made Topshop so popular amongst American buyers?  Although Topshop is ubiquitous on British high streets, fans of the brand are not limited to those only affording high street.  American actress Drew Barrymore, plus Cameron Diaz and Selma Blair, wear Topshop clothes and, given Barrymore’s enthusiastic praise for British fashion, we assume this is more than a publicity stunt to seem more ‘human’ than when wearing Valentino.

Topshop’s American success lies in two factors.  Firstly, middle-of-the-price range fashion, especially that which closely follows catwalk trends is more limited in the US than Britain.  A trip around various areas of New York – including the mainstream heartland of Macy’s to the vintage and up-cycled Lower East side boutiques – displays a larger void between high end designer and thrift store trash than in London, where a wider variety of incomes are spoken too.  Secondly, and importantly, is the specifically British, idiosyncratic confusion of ever-changing designs offered by Topshop.  In contrast to the insipid Americana of Forever 21, recently exported from USA to Britain, Topshop unashamedly promotes a uniquely odd way of dressing.  To understand this more fully it is usefully to think of several British style icons who all, to some degree, embody this peculiar aesthetic.

Number One mentioned is always Miss. Alexa Chung, a woman who – through her penchant for items like denim dungarees and fully buttoned up Peter Pan collared shirts – is said to embody ‘the kind of fashion boys just don’t get’, which is to say the kind of fashion which does not have looking either sexy or pretty as its primary aim.  British style may blush too easily at Sicilian sexiness.

Additionally, we have the other Lagerfeld favourite, Florence Welsh whose blend of eclectic, Urbanite peacock with Miss. Havisham’s half-decayed Victoriana has enabled her to become as famous for her style as her singing.

Less eccentric variants on British dress come courtesy of more classic dressers like Emma Watson and her slightly streamlined, gamine look or Agyness Deyn who keeps alive a 80s/90s version of British androgynous punk.

This distinctive way of dressing has long been the hallmark of British designers themselves.  Established favourites, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen became associated with crazily diverse, artistic creations and a younger generation including Erdem Moralioglu, Christopher Kane and Mary Katrantzou are continuing to produce beautifully strange designs.

What, as Elle’s February issue noted, is invigorating about this new group of designers is their apparent ability to combine incredible creativity with sensible business plans, giving LFW and British fashion the professional edge previously lacking.

Additionally, a fascinating aspect to these designers – as seen in London Street Style – is the gorgeous mixture of cultures encapsulated in their ensembles.  Of the three mentioned above, Kane is Scottish, Katrantzou is Greek and Moralioglu has Canadian, Turkish and British heritage.  As British fashion begins to compete more readily internationally, it will be refreshing to see a modern version of Britain presented, not simply tweed and diamond-patterned socks.

Diverse cultural influences and assorted cat lady-meets-Jerry Hall ideas are what make Topshop proudly legitimise a very British way of dressing.  Aside from America, Topshop have also been successful in other countries, including the new Rich Kid’s Playground, Dubai.  When questioning an expat resident in the UAE on the prevalence of British brands in a land where shopping money is not a problem, she replied “I do not know what Topshop have put in everyone’s tea, but the whole world has fallen in love with it.”