“Fashion is a playground,” said Topshop Unique’s creative director Kate Phelan speaking backstage before the show. For SS17, the high street retailer took its premium line back to fashion’s old stamping ground and staged a show in the heart of Spitalfields Market in London’s east end, “which was once filled with market stalls selling really amazing clothes,” she said. Phelan had been looking at the origins of British style. “We really wanted to celebrate it. London used to be full of fashion markets. We spent all our time [as kids] going to Kensington Market and Camden market,” she says. “You could pick up an army surplus jacket and you could pick up a cocktail dress.”
The Unique show then was full of just that: skimpy little dresses in zebra print silks and 90s lilac slip dresses, mixed in with oversized tailored blazers and boy-fit denim jackets. Military details came in the form of dropped-crotch overalls tied around the waist into trousers, fastened with tent tape ribbons that billowed as models’ walked. “The waist has come back into play,” said Phelan, speaking of the new narrower trouser shape that sits high on the waist, like a jodhpur. “It’s a take on bodycon, it’s about feeling sexy but not provocative. It’s about feeling powerful.”
And what do powerful women need? Patent leather trousers, of course, worn with fuchsia pink stilettos and slinky little blouses. Or pencil skirts and shiny leather mini dresses slashed high on the thigh: these were clothes for women with attitude. Attitude was a big part of the show’s casting, explained Phelan. “ The girls in the show really feel like 90s supermodels, they look really handsome and luscious and strong.”
For the more body conscious, there were garments to be had: hugely oversized trenchcoats with double flap backs and enlarged cuffs belted at the wrist; oversized bomber jackets and chunky knit sweaters in shades of citrus yellow and fuchsia. “The silhouette changes as you chuck on a big coat,” said Phelan.
Topshop Unique is always a show of contrasts: the high street retailer has a rapacious clientele. “She always wants new clothes”, said Phelan. For the first time, the retailer’s premium line will be offered in a ready-to-buy model: 60 per cent of the collection was available to purchase online immediately afterwards — alongside a pop-up shop next to the showspace. “It’s something we’ve had to explore,” Phelan continues. “We’ve always been very responsive and part of being responsive in a digital climate is ensuring our customer has what she wants, when she wants it. Instagram has opened up the whole industry.”