Kate Moss and the socialism of fools
The Croydon supermodel has joined forces with a wideboy businessman to create a new fashion line for Topshop. The snobs don't like it one bit.
‘He’s fucking well getting his money’s worth’, Kate Moss was heard to mutter, as she posed as a mannequin in London’s Oxford Street, gazing out through kohl-rimmed eyes at the media scrum and buyer hordes before her. He, if you didn’t already know, is Philip Green, the fourth richest man in Britain who has performed a commercial coup d’etat: he has persuaded the most fashionable woman in the world to design a clothes collection for his high street chain, Topshop. And it looks certain to be a roaring success.
It’s Tuesday morning, 1 May (not May Day any longer but ‘K Day’, as the British press have dubbed it) and business in Topshop is brisk. The operation is little short of military. Smartly dressed security guards patrol every floor, communicating noisily with shop assistants through a system of walkie-talkies. A man dressed principally in coloured security tags barks into his unit: ‘I’ve got a situation with a mannequin. Over. I need support down here. Over. CAN WE SELL THE CLOTHES OFF THE MANNEQUIN OR NOT?’
Three shopgirls shuffle a large bin of water bottles over to where the queue swells with tourists and office workers who have taken an early lunch. There is a warehouse area right next to the fitting room from which the racks are constantly replenished. A woman from Greece tells me she’s here to buy the yellow chiffon dress for her sister, who has seen it on the internet. Do they know about Kate Moss in Greece? ‘Of course! She is an international icon.’ A teenage girl half dressed in school uniform is trying on a pair of sandals. She’s ‘got a doctor’s appointment’, she explains, and was in the queue to watch Kate model in the shop window the night before. She thinks Kate is really ‘cool’.
A middle-aged Sloane with long dry hair and oversized sunglasses strips down in the middle of the store to try on a transparent gauze print dress, her underwear and bare flesh poking through as she blinks and rearranges herself in the mirror. Kate stares out from the walls, her lips vaguely parted.
The boutique isn’t radically ‘done up’. It looks quite normal for Topshop. But a curly purple neon sign (and the long queue) shows that you’ve arrived at ‘Kate Moss Topshop’. The floor is patterned with leopard print and there are leopard-print chairs and a leopard-print chaise longue stationed next to the changing room, on which bored-looking men sit and wait for their womenfolk. There are random props scattered above the shelves (suitcases; a gilt cage with a revolving disco ball inside) and black illustrations taper across the walls. It’s surprisingly un-snazzy; it has all the worn-out glitz of a Soviet arcade that has seen one too many punters already and is beginning to tire with the pressure. The tide of shoppers never ends, though, as one group of girls comes out and another group of girls goes in.
If this is what Tuesday morning is like, you don’t want to go near the place on Saturday. At the weekend, going into ‘Kate Moss at Topshop’ will be as much fun as ‘Shopping in Hell’.
When it comes to class, Topshop never had much. Twenty years ago it was selling the sort of shabby stuff a mail-order catalogue would have sneered at. But over the past decade the shop’s appeal has skyrocketed. It now sells the uniform for whatever is ‘in’ this season, and thousands of teenage clones wander in and out each day, keeping up with the relentless march of fashion. The clothes may still fall apart after half a dozen washes, but that’s the best way – by then they will be ‘out’ already and you can tramp back to Topshop and start all over again….
The man responsible for this dramatic up-turn in Topshop’s fortunes is its owner, Arcadia mogul Philip Green, who bought the group in 2002. Like all the other high street chains currently undergoing a renaissance, Topshop copies trends seen on the catwalk, on models and on Kate Moss, with ruthless efficiency. When Kate turned up at Glastonbury, dressed in a waistcoat and shorts so tight they might as well have been a nappy, the racks at Topshop suddenly dripped in waistcoats and shorts so tight they might as well have been nappies. When Kate reverted to leggings and ballet pumps, ‘Lo!’ leggings and ballet pumps did appear in Topshop, and they became ubiquitous. Kate sealed the deal on Topshop’s new hyper-popularity when she began to shop there herself, causing a stampede of middle-class Vogue readers in Chanel sunglasses to overrun the store.
A rampant success story always enrages a certain sector of British society. And that sector has seized on the high street union of Kate Moss and Philip Green as particularly nauseating. In the Daily Mail, fashion editor Liz Jones denounced the whole venture as ‘The Great Kate Con’. Jones described it as a ‘tacky, dingy’ concept selling ‘cruddy t-shirts’ and ‘awful…scraps of denim and polyester’ that ‘didn’t fit well’, produced by ‘a skinny model with not one O-level to her name’. Though altogether kinder, the fashion editor of The Times (London) claimed Kate’s halterneck mini-dress looked ‘cheap’ and her micro hotpants were ‘unwearable’. The New York Post declared the whole scheme tantamount to a knock-off, a sort of ‘Duplikate’ market stall for the masses, while the creative director of New York store Barneys just came right out with it and branded Kate ‘a working-class slag from a crap town’.
Philip Green extracts even more bile. He is just another ‘Croydon slag’/spectacular success story and widely credited with dragging Kate down from her pedestal by encouraging her to give a series of personal interviews to promote the new Topshop range. It is true that the content of these interviews is banal, concentrating as they do on Kate’s boyfriend Pete Doherty, a fey junkie and poetic attention-seeker. But you would think from the way Green is often portrayed that he is some sort of evil piratical figure, a Long John Silver type waddling around selling ‘Pieces of Kate! Pieces of Kate!’
The last time he tried to get involved with a national institution (and whatever you say about her, Kate has become one of those) Green provoked an outraged response. In 1999 he mounted the first of several attempts to take over another high street chain, Marks and Spencer. The British establishment regards M&S as its beating heart. It is the life organ in which they buy their underwear; it is where they buy their feta cheese and rollmop sandwiches. Their horrified response to Green’s bid was exemplified by Jon Snow, Channel 4 newsreader and famed bicycle-riding liberal. Conducting a ‘rare interview’ with Green at the time of the bid, Snow asked him ‘whether he was a fit and proper person to run so hallowed an institution as Marks and Spencer’. Unsurprisingly, Green got very angry at Snow’s insinuation (roughly that M&S is high quality whereas Green is just a cheap charlatan) and shouted at the news presenter to get out of his office. ‘The whole incident went out that night on Channel 4’, Snow recounts. ‘The City, it seemed, took a very dim view and the rest is history.’ (1)
Ah yes, the socialism of fools, where Green’s permatanned, cigar-chomping face is literally seen as the unacceptable face of capitalism. Marry that with the snobbery of those who wouldn’t deign to go through Croydon on a train and you have today’s ‘Kate Hate’, a view of the new Topshop venture as vulgar and unbecoming. None of these attacks will stop the shoppers, however. Female after female queues up to get into the Kate Moss boutique. All go in clutching nothing, and come out clutching their strict five-item allocation of goods – and, oh dear, every girl with legs clutches a pair of those ‘unwearable’ denim micro pants.
It seems that, by not sneering at the pulse they felt in the masses, Green and Moss are set to become more successful ‘Croydon slags’ than ever.
Emily Hill is staff writer at spiked and a blogger for Dazed and Confused.
Brendan O’Neill discussed a t-shirt controversy at Topshop’s men’s department, Topman, in Topmen and bad lads. James Woudhuysen mentioned Philip Green’s failed takeover of Marks and Spencers in Brands: Don’t buy the hype. Emily Hill discussed the new enthusiasm for ethical shopping in Bless me father for I have shopped. Or see spiked-issue: Life
(1) My Week: Jon Snow, Guardian, 25 March 2007
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