Topshop's debut show proves it's not just a catwalk copycat

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The Independent Online

White jersey mini-dresses with kimono cuts and tailoring inspired by judo jackets looked clean and minimal ­ the latter being a buzzword for the spring/summer 2006 collections. The bold jungle prints in black and scarlet, which appeared on satin jumpsuits and French knickers also fitted with a trend for tropical pattern that emerged at the New York shows last week.

The Unique studio, which is led by Nick Passmore, proved that Topshop's designers could think for themselves, with sensitivity to the prevailing mood in fashion. Topshop's Unique line is in fact in its 10th season, but yesterday's big-budget show, held in a marquee in Berkeley Square in London's Mayfair, was the first time the retailer has asked press and buyers to consider it alongside independent designers.

As with all "first" shows, this collection had its shaky moments. But can one really compare the average London Fashion Week debut, usually designed by a 21-year-old graduate working with a tiny or nonexistent budget, with the first catwalk show by a company that made a £100m profit last year?

Expectations had been high, partly because there is so much goodwill toward the brand within the British fashion industry. Since 2001, the Arcadia Group company has underwritten the British Fashion Council's New Generation Award, which this season supports 19 young designers. Such sponsorship enables London to maintain its position as a hotbed of young talent, as there are few comparable schemes in foreign fashion capitals. It also pays many young designers to create "capsule" collections for its stores.

Its philanthropy has meant that the fashion industry have mostly welcomed Topshop's move to stage its own show, despite the fact that Fashion Week is intended as a showcase for designers who sell their creations, wholesale, to boutiques.

However there is antipathy towards the prospect of other high street retailers following suit. Topshop itself has not decided whether its Unique show will be a permanent fixture on the Fashion Week calendar. Currently, there is only one boutique, Opening Ceremony in New York, which is stocking the Unique line, although more could now follow. In any case, last night's collection, with its playful, sporty feel will surely go down a storm with young customers at the "The World's Biggest Fashion Store", as Topshop styles its Oxford Circus branch.

And for a fashion retailer that, after all, is the bottom line.