Page last updated at 00:11 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 01:11 UK

Topshop takes American plunge

By Greg Wood
BBC News, New York


Inside New York's Topshop store

Loud music and edgy fashions, boldly displayed with a very British flavour. That is Topshop's new flagship store in New York.

For Topshop's top man, Sir Philip Green, converting this four-storey space in Lower Manhattan has been a nightmare, involving fires, floods, building delays and complaints from the neighbours.

But he is visibly excited by the result.

"The pillars here are the originals," he says.

Sir Philip Green with celebrities

I need to see this working

Sir Philip Green

"What's wonderful is to be able to restore a 100-year-old building. And as a retailer you've got a lot of height and light. Where would you ever believe that an escalator could become a creative part of the building?"

This is a big step, even for a risk-taker like Sir Philip. He is entering the world's most cut-throat fashion market at a time when US shoppers are reining back their spending and clothing sales have spiralled downwards.

A number of British retailers have previously come to grief in America. But Sir Philip says he has learned from their mistakes.

"If I think of all the other British retailers that have been here, they haven't had enough differential - a reason to be here," he says.

"I think we've got something to bring to the market place. We're going to be very fashion-led here. We've got a $500 (£343) dress hanging 30ft from a two-for-$18 tee-shirt. It's different."

Opening frenzy

New York's powerful fashion commentators agree. They have given Topshop their vote of confidence. Gina Kelly is Fashion Director at 17 magazine.

An online advert for the Topshop store in New York
The launch is generating much media interest in New York

"The recession is hitting our readers hard but girls still love to shop," she says.

The celebrity circus is in a full swing as the New York fashion world works itself into a state of frenzy over the Topshop opening. There is a round of parties for "friends" of the brand.

And the paparazzi are desperate for a sighting of supermodel Kate Moss, who designs a range of clothing for Topshop.

Sir Philip Green says the hype is deliberate: "I think awareness is very, very key - to make sure we get traffic to tell us what they like and don't like."

But underneath the hype there is some sound economics at work. Unlike many other companies in these credit-squeezed times, money is not a problem for Topshop.

"I'd like to think we'd make sensible investments, things we want to do," says Sir Philip.

"Could we make an investment tonight of $1bn? Yes we could. We're well-financed. We're able to do things if we really want to do them."

Does Topshop plan to open other stores in the US?

"I want to see this store trade," says Sir Philip.

"I need to see this working. Some of it we'll get right, some of it we'll get wrong. But we should just understand the model.

"I would like to think we could have maybe 12 or 15 flagship stores in the US. Maybe we'll buy. We've looked at a couple of other chains here. I would like this to be the platform for the next bit of our growth."

So, launching in the US is a risk for Topshop. But, unlike many other British companies, it is in a position to take risk. And that in itself is quite an achievement.

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