Karen Walker talks about Topshop

16:00, Oct 12 2010
Karen Walker
KAREN WALKER: Looking forward to bringing "little sticks of fashion gelignite" to Wellington.

The British chainstore Topshop has become a major style authority since it launched in 1964. It is known for its fast fashion, affordable styles and collaborations with designers, and style queens, including model Kate Moss.

In 2005 Topshop became the first high-street retailer to show on schedule at London Fashion Week, where it presented its own in-house design collection Unique.

The Wellington store opens this weekend with the Karen Walker store in Wakefield St wholly displaying Topshop. From Monday there will be a permanent Topshop store within Karen Walker.

You're bringing Topshop to Wellington. Why?

We've been working with Topshop in Auckland as part of The Department Store for the last six months and we've had a lot of customers from Wellington ask if and when we're going to extend it to Wellington. So, essentially, we're just responding to our customers' feedback.

How did this come about?


Topshop were looking for a partner for their brand in New Zealand and had a scout who reported that Karen Walker at The Department Store was the best store in the country. We had a deal within a week of them contacting us and the product was on the floor eight weeks later.

Some would say it's an unusual move for a designer to begin importing a fast-fashion, high-street brand.

There's nothing unusual about modern retail being all about providing customers with a luxurious experience at every price point. This has been the overwhelming development in retail in the last decade.

Designers in the fast-fashion environment are part of the fashion vernacular. Topshop were the pioneers of this concept. Their first collaboration was with Hussein Chalayan more than 10 years ago.

The modern, fashion-literate person shops high and low, and in the New Zealand environment has, up until now, had to do it through different doors.

By bringing our diffusion brand (Hi There from Karen Walker) and now Topshop into the Karen Walker and The Department Store environments we're allowing our customers an opportunity to enjoy a three-dimensional fashion experience.

How much of the store will be dedicated to Topshop stock? Will it be a concept store within a store, or will you be mixing up the clothing on the racks?

What we will do is provide our customers with the ultimate edit of the best of Topshop within our environment. It'll move between Unique, Kate Moss, any other special projects they have, denim, shoes and bags.

The mix will change weekly and we'll have it in a store-within-store environment. For the weekend preview though (October 16 and 17), the entire store will be all Topshop.

Over the years you've been meticulous at building the Karen Walker brand. How does Topshop, a low-cost, high-street brand, complement your own designer brand, in a Karen Walker store?

Topshop long ago transcended its title as a high-street brand. It's long been considered a premium fashion leader for its constant re-invention of fashion paradigms. Over the last 10 years it's been responsible for completely reinventing the fashion landscape over and over again with its big-idea thinking.

In most cases the quality and the styling of the product surpasses many "designer" brands in the market.

Also, Topshop Unique is one of the premium brands at London Fashion Week and is considered to be a great design brand at the highest level and is stocked in the best stores around the world.

Additionally, Topshop occupies large areas in 100 very luxury-focused department stores and boutiques around the world, including Colette in Paris, Incu in Sydney, Opening Ceremony in New York and Selfridges in London next to elite brands like Comme des Garcons, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Celine and the rest.

As far as the brand association is concerned, Karen Walker is very excited to be selected to be part of this family.

Is there a risk of it cannabalising Karen Walker sales?

Combining high and low has been the cornerstone of our brand for some time. We've had Hi There from Karen Walker in store for a few years now and we've found by creating this truly three-dimensional fashion experience that every category across the different lines has grown.

At Karen Walker we love to collaborate with other brands. This season for instance, we're on our third collaboration with Pointer in the UK. The only other brand they collaborate with is Comme des Garcons; and our first with Beau Coops in Sydney. All this allows us to bring new excitement to our customers.

You personally do all the buying from the Topshop range. How many garments do you have to choose from, and what percentage of that do you buy for New Zealand?

I do the buys in collaboration with Topshop's head buyer and our reporting team here and we consider what's going on in our world – seasons, events, etc. I go to London to do the big buys twice a year. The rest we do by email. Topshop release 300 new designs a week and so there's always plenty of fantastic surprises for us to select.

How do you decide what to buy? What is your selection criteria for garments?

We look for items that are strong and exciting and will give our customers little sticks of fashion gelignite.

How often will new stock drop into the store?

Every Tuesday.

Will we get it at the same time as they get it in London, or do we have to wait?

We have to wait three days.

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