Fashion: There's always room at the top

So, you think you're too old, too rich and too stylish to be seen in Top Shop on a Saturday afternoon? Think again, sister. Because that's where you'll find some of Britain's best designer labels this season.
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The Independent Culture
Hussein Chalayan's clothes are expensive. His new range for TSE New York is bloody expensive. In fact, even his sample sales are pushing the boat out. That's probably why there are a lot of smiley faces in fashionable circles at present, for the 28-year-old designer has agreed to turn his busy hand to designing a range for the high street. Top Shop's TS Design range, to be precise.

It is not only Chalayan who has been invited to "guest-design" a collection. Sherald Lamden of Seraph and the newcomer Tracey Boyd have also jumped on board the good ship Top Shop, and next month their clothes will begin to appear at the new, all-singing-all-catwalking Oxford Street flagship store.

Designers on the high street are nothing new; Debenhams have been doing it successfully for a couple of years. What is different is who the clothes are for, and their price.

Top Shop, as we all know, is the Mecca for teenage girls (and canny shoppers with an eye for a looky-likey fashionable finds) everywhere. Shopping at London's Oxford Circus branch in particular is a day out in itself, and when the refurbished store opens at the end of September, it will be even better. There will be six catwalk presentations a week, hair salons, fake tattoo parlours, and enough affordable clothes to kit out a small town. What is even more mind-boggling is the size. The changing-rooms alone will accommodate 2,000 people.

The TS Design range was introduced last year for women with a bit more money to spend on fashion than their (perhaps) younger counterparts, and frankly it looked a bit out of place among the colourful clobber. Now, however, with designer names to support it, the range will prove absolutely irresistible to regular customers and fashion luvvies alike. Each one is carefully targeted at a different type. Chalayan, who says, "I did it because it's so different from what I usually do", has come up with three colours - red, black and sky blue - and one fabric - jersey - which he has turned into simple separates for the girl who likes to look chic with minimal fuss. Slash-neck tops with bracelet-length or no sleeves, vests, slim to-the-knee skirts, and a vest dress are imbued with Chalayan's spare, linear handwriting. Some bear a latex circle graphic, but the overall message is simplicity with a dash of restrictive modernity. Of all the pieces, the black top with slash-neck and bracelet-length sleeves, at pounds 50, is most certain to be a sell-out.

The masterminds of this project are John Hoerner, chief executive of Arcadia (the group that owns Top Shop) and chairman of the British Fashion Council, and Sarah Mower, fashion features editor of Harper's Bazaar, whom Hoerner has employed as his fashion director. The two of them approached Chalayan and Sherald Lamden and, in return for their work, Top Shop are sponsoring their forthcoming catwalk shows for London Fashion Week - something Lamden is ecstatic about. "We've only been independent for a year, so this is a great help," she says.

Her collection for the store has an upbeat, clubby feel. "Top Shop is for good-time girls. I hung out there before I decided what to do because I wasn't given a brief as such; they just asked me to provide the Seraph look." Seraph is also for good-time urban girls. It's funky, eclectic, and buzzing with tiny but all-important details such as twinkling sequins, drawstrings and prints. For Top Shop Lamden gave it a "spin", as she puts it. "I even wanted to call it `Spin-Off'." She didn't, in the end, but instead put a spin graphic on to the T-shirts and denim jackets, and gave everything a slightly nautical imprint with a sailor-collared jacket and classic sailor pants, both also made from hard-wearing denim.

Thirtysomething Lamden asserts that she would wear all the clothes herself, "particularly the wide-leg, low-slung jeans [pounds 60] which are the same cut as the ones from Seraph, only with less detail".

Now that "contemporary girl" and "good-time urban-girl" have been kitted out at Top Shop there is one space left to fill, which is for "pretty party girl", and this is where Tracey Boyd comes in. Her range will be available at the end of October, and is timed for the party season.

Boyd, 37, started her fashion career as in-house designer for the London boutique Tokio. Two years on, she has her own label. The clothes, which she describes as "strong feminine", are not the least bit wispy or floaty. "I like my clothes to offer support," she says, "and I think about underwear choices." A self-confessed Top Shopaholic, Boyd can't wait to see her new range hanging on the rails. "When I first saw the finished samples I was like Ohmygod!", she says. "They are such good quality, which is surprising for the high street."

Expect party dresses in gorgeous colours such as dusty violet, soft lilac, and what Boyd describes as "dirty celadon", a kind of greenish-grey. As a final flourish, Boyd has designed the perfect party-entrance coat, with a fake fur collar to match the decadent mood of the dresses.

Now that Top Shop really is for Everywoman, and not just Everygirl, who can resist? I certainly can't. See you in the queue.

Top left, sky-blue jersey knee-length shift with circle graphic, pounds 65.

Top right, sleeveless spin print T-shirt (just seen), pounds 35, and denim hip-seam pedal pushers, pounds 45, both by Seraph for TS Design. Jack Purcell leather plimsolls pounds 39.99, available from good sports stores nationwide.

Bottom left, slash-neck spin print T-shirt, pounds 40, by Seraph for TS Design.

Bottom right, slash-neck pimento jersey T-shirt with pink circle graphic, pounds 45. Knee-length jersey skirt, pounds 45. Both by Hussein Chalayan for TS Design. Also available in black and sky-blue.

All clothes will be available from Top Shop, Oxford Circus, London W1 from the end of September with the label TS Design (each designer's work will be clearly indicated in the store. The refurbished Top Shop opens on 3 October. As an added incentive, NUS cardholders receive 10 per cent off at Top Shop

Photographs: Mauricio Guillen


Tamara Cincik


Jimo Salako

Make-up: Charlotte Tilbury