The Week That Was

26/11/2011 23:27 GMT | Updated 26/01/2012 10:12 GMT

In Topshop's Oxford Circus flagship store on Thursday evening, there was scant evidence of a company in trouble.

In the queues on the lower-ground floor the word recession couldn't have appeared more out of place, with every teen, twenty-something, thirty-something and the rest clutching mounds of skinny jeans (red seemed a particularly popular choice), fake fur coats and sequin-embellished party dresses (with one month until Christmas there were a lot of sequins on display).

Sir Philip Green might have spent the day defending his decision to close up to 260 Arcadia stores, but his Topshop-buying public were still doing their best to keep the company coffers full.

According to Radio 4's Today Programme, in one of the few interviews Green granted following the announcement, he claimed he'd be moving more of his business online. It might have made a nice sound-bite, but anyone who believes the Arcadia stable is only just waking up to the powers of e-commerce is seriously behind the times.

Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and the like have been selling online for years, producing some of the best high-street-fashion websites complete with can't-get-them-anywhere-else online specials, blogs, guest-editors and more.

I'd imagine what he meant was closing stores isn't likely to hit the bottom line (well, not in a negative way at least).

Arcadia's younger consumers (at least) are already au fait with shopping online and if their local Topshop/Miss Selfridge/Wallis* (*delete as applicable) disappears, they will still get their fashion fix - just from the comfort of their sofas rather than their nearest mall.

And that's if the closures really mean this.

With vacant properties on every single British high street right now, it'll hardly be a huge surprise if Green and his associates don't snap up better locations at knock-down prices and we see a slew of re-openings over the next few years, all the better to showcase the season's new collections.

Let's not forget this is a company that even while absorbing a 38% decrease can still boast a healthy sounding £133 million profit line. Still, that's quite a few million less than last year.


Green claims it's down to an unusually warm autumn, or "the hottest October and November in history" to use his exact hyperbole. He's right, it's pretty hard to chase fur coats out the door (faux though the ones Topshop sells may be) when your consumers are shopping in shorts and T-shirts, but the bone-chilling temperatures of the past weeks should have reversed that little issue for him.

Doubtless there will be some who nod sagely and insist this finally confirms that fast fashion is over, as style commentators have been telling us for at least the past five years.

While I, and those worrying over our mounting land-fills, would be happy were that the case, the relentless march onwards and upwards for Primark and the like make arguing that case somewhat fraught with potential pitfalls.

The designer houses struggling at the upper echelons of the fashion food-chain might not want to admit it, but they haven't exactly reaped the rewards from that particular trend being done and dusted either, forced as they continue to be to create more affordable diffusion lines, more fragrances, more accessories and the now ubiquitous high-street guest collections.

Have Green's talented in-house designers lost their touch? The packed front-row of the Topshop Unique show during London Fashion Week in September, and the glowing reviews the collection subsequently received, suggest not.

Last summer, I had the somewhat catastrophic realisation as I descended the escalators in the Oxford Circus branch that I was finally too old for Topshop. Turns out, I was just too old for that season's penchant for three-quarter-length tracksuit bottoms worn with lace crop tops. This season I haven't shopped anywhere else (OK, there might have been the odd splurge in Zara. And Saturday evenings aren't quite the same without an impulse Asos click-and-shop.)

So maybe it's the simple fact that even the Teflon-plated Philip Green isn't immune to this new age of austerity. We're earning less, working harder, being charged more and, as a consequence, buying less up and down the country, and that includes in his shops.

If that thought gives Green a sleepless night in his home-from-home at The Dorchester next time he's in London, I suggest he take a wander, or more likely a chauffeur-driven-Bentley drive along Oxford Street - the hordes splurging out of his loud-and-proud flagship store, Topshop-bags in hand, should make up for the missing digits in his offshore bank account.