Being modern: TK Maxx

We have, us modern folk, a somewhat instinctual reaction to brands and labels. Should we hear, for example, talk of Littlewoods, BHS, Dorothy Perkins, Lidl or Peacocks, our noses begin to turn up almost reflexively. Which will still be many people's reaction to the words TK Maxx. Should, however, someone start to bandy the names Aquascutum, Helmut Lang, Mandarina Duck, See by Chloé or Nicole Farhi about at your dinner-party table... well, now we're talking.

Yet all of those brands have been purchased by this roving reporter at his local branch of said "off-price" retailer. And, as its utterly meaningless slogan assures us, "always up to 60 per cent less". How the devil do they do it?

TK Maxx began life as TJ Maxx in the US in 1976. When it moved to the UK in 1994, it changed its middle initial to avoid confusion with TJ Marshall, a department store in Liverpool – a decision that now looks like Michael "King of Pop" Jackson changing his name to avoid confusion with the former BBC controller.

The key to the brand's success (about 300 stores in the UK and counting) is in its purchasing policy and power, or as its own website puts it: "unlike traditional fashion retailers who buy four times a year, our buyers scour the globe 24/7 to bring you back the best brands at a fraction of the price". Then there are the shops themselves – "no-frills" in the company's own parlance, but which (we cannot lie to you) make the church fête bric-a-brac stall look like Tiffany's.

Shoes, homewares, toys, clothing, luggage, candles, sunglasses, cosmetics... all of it is in there somewhere, no two stores are alike, "when it's gone, it's gone" and the whole experience is a sort of Middle England take on the Middle Eastern souk. In a world where high streets look the same from the Highlands to Hull to Hampstead, this is surely something to be savoured.

But the real modern joy to be had from shopping at TK Maxx comes when you're telling someone "It's Prada, darling," and only you know the hell you had to go through to be able to say that with such effortless ease.

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