The second episode begins with Sir Philip Green on a high. He’s about to launch the noisiest celebrity collaboration of the noughties which will carry Topshop mania around the world. But without the creative team that built the brand how long can he keep the brand on top?
As far as the world is concerned Topshop is reaching its zenith – and fresh off the Kate Moss launch, Green is flying high.
As the world faces economic meltdown Green is defiant: with Topshop he is going to conquer first New York and then the world. But back home in the United Kingdom the mood is changing. Austerity is gripping the country and big business is under attack. As anti-capitalist campaigners take to the streets, Topshop provides the backdrop for their attack on Green. He had hit the headlines several years earlier for the size of the dividends paid from the company and his family’s tax affairs. For the first time Green is faced with a hostile public, both personally and professionally, and this animosity is felt in the Topshop stores.
As the decade unfolds Topshop finds itself challenged from all directions. The high street is changing and it can’t keep up with the proliferation of cheaper and faster fashion brands. Competition from online stores like Asos and Boohoo piles on further pressure. Profits are suffering and a culture of fear is growing. Even Topshop’s brief collaboration with Beyonce is not enough to protect the brand from the scandals that are on the horizon.
In 2015 the Arcadia Group sells BHS, the brand that had once made Sir Philip Green a household name and which is now mired in debt. One year later, under the new leadership of Dominic Chappell, the company collapses taking 11,000 jobs with it. Despite having sold the business a year earlier, Green is the focus of public anger when a black hole is discovered in the pension fund.
As the scandal plays out in the media, Green’s once golden reputation is in ruins. And the fallout once again puts the spotlight on Topshop. Profits are suffering and bad press is building. In the stores staff are nervous and at HQ the pressure to turn Topshop around is felt by everyone. Even a commitment to pay more than 300 million pounds into the BHS pension fund does little to calm things. And it’s not long before another scandal hits the headlines.
By 2018 the #MeToo movement is in full swing and rumours about Green’s behaviour in Arcadia reach a journalist at the Telegraph, who spends months speaking to current and former employees. They paint a picture of a corporate culture where allegations of bullying, inappropriate physical contact and racism are directed at Green.
Despite legal attempts to shut the story down and denials of any wrongdoing, Green is named, under parliamentary privilege in the House of Lords, as the businessman at the heart of the allegations in Britain’s so called #MeToo Scandal.
Scandals, competition from rival brands and online and a changing customer base is too much for Topshop – and when the global pandemic hits it has nothing to fall back on.
In November 2020 the Arcadia Group collapses putting 13,000 jobs at risk, and in February 2021 Asos, the very online rival which had been slowly taking Topshop’s customer base, announces they have bought the Topshop brand.
The fashion retailer that had revolutionised and defined women’s fashion for a generation is now gone from our high streets, and Sir Philip Green, once a dominant force in British retail, is no longer its king.
Trouble at Topshop – Monday at 9.00pm on BBC Two.
Image: BBC / Voltage TV / Tom Hayward.