At the shows this season, luxury brands like Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren and Burberry are hustling to join the See-Now, Buy-Now revolution. Sitting front row at Topshop Unique’s first instantly available show, I realized, this game was already in their blood, ever since the mid-’60s when the brand began bringing youthful fashion to the masses at prices they could actually afford. Then, around the turn of the millennium, they launched Unique, a higher priced label that in 2005 joined the London Fashion Week schedule—effectively legitimizing its “investment piece” status (and thereby justifying any potential sticker shock). So while other fashion houses pivot 180-degrees to close the six-month gap from runway to retail, isn’t Topshop just coming full circle, I wondered?
The venue was, rather fittingly, East London’s historic Old Spitalfields Market. There, locals have shopped cool finds for 350 years and still do, according to the blonde, fishnet and cat eye wearing fashion stylist I toured the shows with, who lives for its vintage market on Thursdays.
The show started like any other, opening with face-of-the-second Taylor Hill. Inspired by a punked-up version of ladylike ’50s couture, Debbie Harry-esque glossy black vinyls, New Wave strap details and flap and snap constructions à la Camden Palace crossed the floor. You could detect a hint of Hedi Slimane’s final collection of power minis and snow cone brights at Saint Laurent, mingled with the ’80s-inflected loose satins and flashy tuxedo dressing of Lanvin’s last outing, without Alber Elbaz at the helm.
A few days prior to the show, I asked Topshop Unique’s global design director Jacqui Markham why See-Now, Buy-Now made sense. “It’s a natural evolution for the brand,” she said. “We’ve always set out to bring fashion and style to everybody and to make it immediate.”
As one of the High Street’s big three, Topshop now drops close to 400 new styles each week between the main line, Unique and other sub-ranges. For Unique’s September collection, half of the show pieces are available now (in Canada, four pieces are currently at Hudson’s Bay Queen Street Toronto and Vancouver locations); the rest will land in those stores and on their site November 11.
“There is this misconception that we can create everything overnight, but there is a long manufacturing process,” notes Markham. “We are in the fortunate position to have dependable, global suppliers that can react and respond quickly to the ever changing nature of fashion. We can flex our delivery timescales to a degree, but never at the risk of compromising quality.” Compared to the main line, Unique is elevated for a reason. The range, overseen by Creative Director and British Vogue editor Kate Phelan, is made using factories and mills that produce garments for luxury designers, I’m told, using richer fabrications such as silk, cashmere, leather and embellished handwork.
I hit the pop-up shop during the hour reserved for VIP showgoers to check out the collection up close. Admittedly, the situation lacked the madness of an H&M collab, but then again, editors had more shows to get to and the space wasn’t open to the public yet. While I waited a few minutes to try on a cream soft leather cropped jacket that reminded me of something Janet Jackson may have worn in her Control days, I chatted with a woman who appeared to be in her late 40s, and her wide-eyed Nordstrom’s personal shopper. “Isn’t it exciting you can buy all this stuff right away?” she asked me, as her client happily held a zebra print dress over one arm.
Afterward, I hopped into the van to go to my next show and from the window watched as a raven headed influencer type methodically stepped on and off, on and off the cobblestone curb to find the perfect IG “moment” for her camera boy. She was wearing the very black and white zebra dress under her biker jacket, and she had a wide smile on her face, as if she’d won something.
Will See-Now, Buy-Now be as thrilling several seasons from now? For Topshop, the future may not be certain, but there’s a distinct confidence, comfort even, in their approach. “We are on a learning curve to find out what works and what doesn’t, and adaptability will be the key to success,” Markham had told me. “Once we shift, there will not be any going back.”