Saturday, June 8, 2013

Store Review: Topshop

Location: Queen’s Road Central
Type of Goods: casual clothing
Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

After months of speculation and anticipation, Topshop, Britain’s enormously successful “fast fashion” chain, finally made landfall in Hong Kong this week. The opening drew huge press coverage in the UK, from The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph to The Financial Times. Even flamboyant founder and billionaire Sir Philip Green flew into the city just to cut the ribbon. A long queue now snakes out of the store, making the already jam-packed Queen’s Road Central even more impenetrable. Fashion pilgrims wait patiently in the 33-degree sweltering heat to pay homage to this sartorial mecca. There are locals, expats and Mainland tourists of all ages. Topshop appeared to have broad appeal and I didn't understand why.

Topshop on Queen's Road Central

When I first heard that the brand was coming to Hong Kong, I found myself yawning with indifference. After all, Topshop – and its men-only offshoot Topman – has been in Asia for years. There are stores all over TokyoBangkokKL, Manila and Singapore. As a North American transplant, I had always considered the British retailer a bit of a wannebe brand, whose appeal in Asia was limited to those who once studied or lived in the UK and now crave a piece of Cool Britannica as a reminder of their years abroad. I wondered how far the nostalgic factor would carry the label in Hong Kong when it was up against astronomical retail rent and fierce competition from Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Gap and Uniqlo. Once the 15 minutes of fame passed, I figured, it would then quietly exit the city as GAP did in the 1990s and as Benetton and Jack Wills would in the not-so-distant future.

That’s what I thought until I spoke to my friend Louise, an English mother of two who is not only an arbiter of taste but also my go-to person for all things British. The first thing that came out of Louise’s mouth when I mentioned Topshop's new Hong Kong store was: “It'll be like printing money, love.” She was confident that the Central store would be a big hit and a launching pad for the label to enter the Mainland Chinese market. Louise went on to talk about Topshop's iconic Oxford Circus flagship in London, its popular lines by Kate Moss and Christopher Kane, and the fact that it not only completely dominates the clothing market in Britain but also operates 400 stores in nearly 50 countries.

Kate Moss for Topshop

"Why is Topshop so successful?" I asked my fashionista friend. 

“It is quintessentially High Street: fashionable and accessible,” she said matter-of-factly. “It’s better quality than H&M and edgier than Zara.” 

"How so?" I pressed. 

Zara is safe and they stick to the same muted palette season after season. But Topshop is fun, colorful and bold. It’s runway stuff made affordable.” 

But her lecture quickly took a personal turn. “You know it’s hard for women, especially white women, to shop for clothes in Hong Kong,” the frustrated expat lamented. “You go from Gucci and Dior straight down to H&M and Cotton On. There’s really not much in between." Suddenly a smile appeared: "Topshop gives us another option, and more choice is never a bad thing.” 

She is right about that.

The flagship on Oxford Street

And so, once again, I got a fashion lesson from Louise and stood happily corrected. To atone for my U.S.-centric ignorance, I paid the new store a respectful visit this Saturday morning, the only time of the week when I could walk in without waiting in line. The store takes up two floors at Asia Standard Tower where the PRC state-owned Chinese Arts & Crafts (中藝) once stood. Because of the limited space, the store carries only women’s clothes, which explains the somewhat apologetic billboard, "Girls love Topshop," on the display window. I asked one of the supervisors whether Topman would soon follow and he replied with a twinge of humility, “We’ll see how the first store goes.” 

Just as I thanked the supervisor for talking to me, I caught an H&M manager, still wearing her staff t-shirt and a walkie-talkie earpiece, snuck out of the new store with a purchase. She scurried back to the H&M flagship across the street before anyone else saw her giving business to a competitor. It looks like things will go just fine for Topshop.


  1. Love the review. I'm gonna borrow it to show to my class sometimes.


  2. Sure, Uhu! In fact, I'd love to be a guest speaker at one of your classes next time I'm in BKK if you think it's of interest to your students!


  3. Topshop is expanding in the world to compete with M&S.


  4. Topshop was one of my favourite shops when I was studying in the UK. Topshop offers a wide range of colourful and floral clothes which I like so much and I hoped they would open one in Hong Kong. Now they have come.....and I don't know if I should feel happy. They are not really cheap in the UK and I believe the clothes will be overpriced in Hong Kong because of the high rent......