Why the closing of Topshop’s Oxford Street store is bittersweet

Topshop Oxford Street

Topshop’s Oxford Street store is facing closure as the brand struggles with debt. Image via Adobe Stock.

If you’ve ever lived in or even visited London since the 90s then you’ve no doubt been to the massive Oxford Street Topshop store whose prime position by Piccadilly Circus station was a mecca for fashion fans and tourists alike. It’s somewhat bittersweet to hear that the huge 90,000 square foot flagship, which first opened its doors in 1994, is up for sale, as Topshop’s owner Sir Philip Green’s retail empire is crumbling and is now in administration. While sales have slumped during the pandemic, the Arcadia Group which owns Topshop along with other UK brands, was struggling before Covid-19 hit and had shuttered a number of stores in the past few years.

Topshop has meant different things to lots of fashion fans but the Oxford Street flagship nicknamed Big Topshop holds a special place in many shopper’s hearts, myself included. The megastore was quite a place to explore with four huge levels of clothes, shoes and accessories as well as food concessions, a beauty salon and a live DJ. Over the years it was home to countless launches and it wasn’t uncommon to see queues well down Oxford Street for celebrity collaborations like the much-hyped debut of Kate Moss x Topshop in 2007. Kate Moss went on to design no less than 15 collections with Topshop and it’s regarded as one of the most successful collaborations by the brand.

I’d previously visited the store as a teenager while in London with my family but it wasn’t until I moved to London in 2011 to do my post grad in fashion and lifestyle journalism at the London College of Fashion (LCF) that I really got to know the Oxford Street store. The LCF campus I attended was practically next door to the mega Topshop and as an eager fashion student I spent countless hours browsing the racks to check out the latest trends and collabs. There was also a section on the lower floor dedicated to emerging talent and I discovered new designers I otherwise wouldn’t have heard of by regularly trawling through those racks. While it has somewhat fallen from favour in recent years, Topshop was still at the height of all things fashion forward then, and even showed at London Fashion Week.

Being on a meagre student budget meant shopping was often out of the question and even though I bought a suitcase full of New Zealand fashion with me to the UK, when I needed something it was usually Topshop that I purchased it from. Most of those purchases are still in my wardrobe today like the classic black babydoll dress I got for £48 that was such a popular style at the time, if you watch the opening credits of New Girl, Jess wears a red version that was identical to my favoured black one. That dress went so many places with me in London. I even wore it on a first date with a cute Italian guy who I ironically met in front of the Oxford Street store, the dress has certainly lasted a lot longer than that tumultuous relationship did.

While I’m not a big sale shopper these days, back then I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of sale season shopping so when my friend’s sister wanted to visit the Boxing Day sale at Topshop I was happy to accompany her. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it in all my years of shopping, the store looked like it had been ripped apart as frenzied shoppers tore through the racks and garments got tossed in every direction. The carnage was being created at a far quicker pace than the many shop assistants could put it back in order and the huge changing room and till queues snaked their way through the mess. It did end up being a successful outing though despite the chaos, I picked up a pink skirt and floral blazer that I wore religiously for several seasons after that and still own today.

Moving to another country by yourself is definitely a somewhat lonely experience and in the early days of my life in London I sought refuge in Big Topshop many times, occupying myself by checking out new makeup or trying on clothes that were fun and frivolous, the opposite to the grey London chill outside. On the odd occasion I took solace in crying in the changing room when things felt a bit overwhelming, there’s nothing like tightly budgeting to attend an expensive fashion school combined with constant deadlines and lack of people to lean on to make you lose your cool at times. I didn’t often make fashion purchases in the store but on those days I more often than not bought myself a delicious Lola’s cupcake to cheer myself up – having cupcakes in a clothing store is definitely a genius idea when you’re having a bad day.

Trelise Cooper

Me in my pink Topshop skirt trying on runway shoes in the showroom at Trelise Cooper’s head office in 2012. Image writer’s own.

When I moved back to New Zealand in 2012, I wore the beautiful floral blazer I picked up at Topshop over a lace Twenty-seven names dress to a job interview for a social media role at Trelise Cooper. While buying a Trelise Cooper outfit wasn’t in the budget at the time, the team interviewing me commented that I definitely looked like a Trelise Cooper girl in my feminine outfit, and I got the job. As I slowly built up my wardrobe of designer pieces thanks to having a salary again I still kept my favourite Topshop pieces in rotation too.

Fast forward nearly a decade and I haven’t shopped at Topshop in several years, when the shiny new Topshop opened on Queen Street in Auckland in 2015 I visited on opening day but it definitely didn’t have the same magic as the Oxford Street store and I left empty-handed. By then my former love of fast fashion was being replaced by more knowledge about the harm that it causes to both people and our planet, and in an age of more mindful consumption, it became hard to justify shopping at Topshop anymore. That’s aside from all the controversy that has been created by the brand’s abhorrently behaved owner in recent years.

I’ll hold on to my memories of Big Topshop fondly and while it’s legacy will no doubt linger, it’s time that fast fashion also became a thing of the past.

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