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A Conversation with Gordon Richardson

Back in 2005, British retailer Topman sought to set itself apart from its high street counterparts with Topman Design – a range of highly directional and fashion-forward ready-to-wear garments. Under the leadership of Design Director Gordon Richardson, Topman Design has proven to be a highly successful extension of the Topman brand and, in recent years, has exploded onto the market, even becoming a permanent fixture on the London Fashion Week calendar. We recently caught up with Richardson to discuss the label’s design direction as well as its plans for the future.

Not too long ago, Topman was regarded by many as being just another high street mega-giant. In recent years, however, the brand has grown into a well-respected fashion institution. How would you explain the company’s transformation?
It’s been a slow and steady process of building fashion credibility. Luckily we had Topshop as a template and knew that we had every chance of building a brand with the same fashion credibility but had to approach it cautiously. For the first few years, it was more about what we wouldn’t do than what we could potentially do. It was important to build the brand aesthetic and stand for something than rush to try and achieve everything. That meant focusing on the product and injecting design values rather than purely trading values of price and quantity. Once that was in place we felt confident to invite young designers into the mix, Kim Jones being the prime example. We couldn’t have done that without having a fashion brand in place.

For the past few seasons Topman has had its own dedicated spot on the London Fashion Week calendar. What influenced the decision to begin showing the collections on the runway?
In my head I’d always had that as a possibility for the brand. As we grew in fashion confidence we felt that the time was right to take the plunge and show. It was a huge risk and we were all very nervous and still are with every collection. For me it was the turning point in establishing ourselves not only as brand in our own right but a truly global player.

In addition to the NEWGEN MEN collections, Topman has also collaborated with many young designers including Kim Jones, Peter Jensen and Markus Lupfer. How important is it for the label to continue to promote and support such new and emerging menswear talents?
I personally feel it’s crucial to support young talent both in fashion, music and all things cultural. I’m immensely proud of what Topman has done in its support over the years. In supporting NEWGEN MEN and MAN we are investing in fashions future which has to be the right arena for a youthful brand such as ourselves. By doing so we have now put British menswear on the fashion map in an arena dominated by womenswear. That’s no mean feat.

Topman’s product offerings include several different ranges like AAA, Topman Design and MAN. How would you describe the differences between each one and why are they all necessary?
The heartland of our brand is obviously the Topman label, however, it felt increasingly more that we had a broader appeal and the likes of sub brands cater to that and, in turn, enrich our whole fashion offer. AAA is for the “rock and roller” in all of us whilst a range like Topman Ltd are for the more discerning heritage type shopper who likes a more discreet approach to fashion. Topman Design sits above all of them as the most direction fashion-led house label.

In 2010, Topman expanded outside of the UK for the very first time by opening a flagship store on Broadway in New York City. Why did you all feel that was the right time to move stateside?
Both Topshop and Topman have such a fashion following that the timing just seemed right to start to expand globally. The decision to go stateside first was one of Sir Philp Green’s.

It’s also been confirmed that Topman (along with Topshop, its sister store) is planning to open a second flagship location in Chicago by Fall 2011. With that said, what do you feel are the biggest differences between the American male shopper and your British customers?
Yep, Chicago opens in the early fall. What we’ve found with our New York store is that the American customer tends to shop our more classic lines (in particular our suiting) which goes from strength to strength. Some of our more casual lines like jeans, for instance, were obviously going to be a harder deal as they are so ubiquitous out there. Having said that, once the customer has tried them and bought them they seem to be coming back to buy our chinos, etc. in the same skinnier fits.

As a label that’s known for being directional, how do you feel about the current state of the menswear industry? Is there anything you would like to change if you could?
I think the high street in general is playing safe at the moment as a general response to the economy, but in tangent you have all these very talented young designers – James Long, JW Anderson, Christopher Shannon,Thom Murphy, etc. who aren’t afraid to explore new areas of menswear. They keep it all alive and vibrant and young and dynamic – all the things that the very fabric of fashion is made from.

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