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AWhen I began my career, the big Topshop on Oxford Circus was to me what New York City was to Carrie Bradshaw or Seattle to Frasier Crane or Pawnee to Leslie Knope – it was there for my every adventure and every heartbreak. It told the world who I was and it kept my deepest, darkest secrets. It was a constant companion, always there when I needed it.
That flagship store was a lifeline.
All of my jobs based in offices were just around the corner. I went there when I was bored on a lunch break but I also went there if I’d had a shitty morning, calling my mum as my eyes scanned 20 million pairs of earrings or socks or clutch bags or sunglasses. I’d go there if everything was brilliant, buying myself something small and unnecessary. I’d go there before a date, nervously killing time, trying to check my make up in the mirrors. I’d go there if the date went well and I didn’t make it home that evening and needed to look like I had when I went back into the office the next day. I’d go there if someone was being a dick and I’d try a dress on and maybe have a cry in the changing room.
I’d go there when I was frustrated that my career wasn’t moving fast enough and thought a spontaneous ear-piercing might change that. And it would always be there, same as it ever was – young girls hanging about outside, awful music blaring, the escalators that plunged you into a windowless cocoon of £50 dresses that were more than you could afford but somehow seemed worth every penny. You went in with a question, a problem, a conundrum, and you came out with an answer, a solution, a fix.
I worked in and around Soho throughout my twenties. I was out all the time. I never had anything in the fridge. I met countless people, went on countless dates, ran around Soho pubs, went to book launches and met more people. It was exciting and heady and hungover and really quite wonderful. And I remember big Topshop as a key cast member from those scenes. And that was partly because it was just always there but also because it was the golden age of Topshop. Jane Shepherdson’s magic was at its most powerful.
At its peak, it was truly unstoppable.
A French Vogue editor said the first thing she did when she came to London was to go to big Topshop. Kate Moss was wearing Topshop, then she was designing it. One morning, as I rushed in before work, I noticed the woman next to me had very skinny knees. I looked up and saw it was Alexa Chung. We certainly weren’t asking about Philip Green and his infamous bullying behaviour. We weren’t thinking about the planet and the waste and the harm. And we weren’t listening to the cleaning staff who went on strike. I was wrapped up in my polyester bubble and big Topshop was my good time gal – there to make you look and feel amazing, there to hold your hand when you were sad or unsteady on your feet.
It is uncomfortable to pay such emotional homage to the main pillar of the Green empire. It is extremely sad that so many people will lose jobs and most of them will be women but calling time on men like Green is long overdue. Topshop had to go. Besides, big Topshop had lost its swing. Or maybe I’d got older. Maybe fast fashion doesn’t feel like it once did because we can’t pretend everything is fine anymore. Or maybe all of the above. But either way, as headlines this week announce it is about to be sold, I felt something and a dozen memories flooded back, like bumping into an old flame on the street. I began to remember a version of myself that doesn’t really exist anymore, and that’s okay, but I’m really glad it once did.
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