River Island heads across the pond

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

After reports last week that the great British export will expand to the US, Harriet Walker discovers more about a brand that's thriving

The high street chain River Island has roots in the bomb sites of post-war London, but last week came speculation that the company would be expanding into the US early next year. And with the announcement last month that the store was working on a collaboration with international megastar Rihanna, which will launch next spring, the company seems to be writing its own success story regardless of the recession.

River Island is already firmly established across Europe and Asia, but may yet follow its rival Topshop, which opened a New York store in 2009, and has since expanded across the American heartland. In the US, the concept of the "high street" doesn't exist as it does here, and Topshop's pocket money-friendly take on quirky and cool clothing has proved a hit among young shoppers across the pond.

Although nothing has been confirmed yet, an early season check-in proves that River Island has plenty to shout about: its new collection is stocked full of its own take on the baroque splendour seen on the rather more exclusive catwalks of labels such as Dolce & Gabbana and Moschino for autumn.

Other key influences include edgy youth and street culture, tailored to a customer base that is directional and discerning but keen for a bargain. Prices remain resolutely low, even on items such as shoes and bags that boast thoughtful and complex design features.

"Our customers want fashion with an added twist, and that's exactly what we do," explains Farida Kaikobad, the store's brand director. "New lines go in each week, keeping the stores looking fresh and ensuring customers come back for more. The whole team is very creative and I think this is reflected in our stores – we're often referred to as the 'boutique of the high street!'"

Born as a tiny East London wool shop in 1948, River Island started out as an independent clothing chain across the UK called Lewis Separates, which later morphed into the Sixties high-street hit Chelsea Girl, selling poppy fashion to the teeny-boppers who congregated on the Kings Road. It acquired its current name only in the early Nineties – incidentally, a decade that much of this season's stock harks back to, style-wise.

Having resurrected the Chelsea Girl line in recent years, the company has also added credibility by working alongside designers such as William Tempest, whose line for the brand launches next month, and sponsoring events at London Fashion Week. This season sees the chain hooking up with fashion designers and film-makers too. "River Island is such a successful brand because its style feeds in straight from the street," says Katherine Ormerod, senior fashion news editor at Grazia. "When you're in the stores, you see references taken from music videos, from street style websites and from style icons outside the world of catwalk fashion."

In fact, joining forces with Rihanna came about after the star was spotted out and about wearing several pieces from the store: a simple grey marl T-shirt emblazoned with a Rolling Stones logo; an Aertex mesh cut-out dress, and a pair of barely-there denim hotpants garnered plenty of column inches.

"It's no mean feat when luxury labels are falling over themselves to dress her," continues Katherine Ormerod. "Rihanna is the ultimate street-styler – mashing up insider labels with high street and designer labels, she seems more authentic than many other starlets."

"The River Island shopper is fashion savvy, but not a slave to trends or achingly cool," says Farida Kaikobad. "They all have their own style and shop for either great modern classics or fun seasonal pieces with us."

Suggested Topics
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power