My flatmate once told me that you can walk into Topman’s massive Oxford Circus flagship as yourself and come out a completely different person. As well as offering thousands of looks that could transform a suited dandy into a health goth and back again, there are also boutiques in the basement that will bleach your hair, wax your bottom, even pierce and tattoo you if you wish. Now Topman’s online personal shopping service takes things even further, allowing anyone to enjoy the indulgence of a personal shopper from the comfort of their office desk, their bedroom, or anywhere else with a computer and a fast internet connection. I had to try it out.
Topshop has previously used Google’s video-chat technology to share its womenswear catwalk shows – allowing fans to see what’s happening backstage, talk to celebrities on the front row, and watch the show through micro-cameras worn by the models – but now they’re using it for a retail experience that’s only available to Topman customers. As it’s an innovative, youthful service that has only been running for a couple of weeks, I decide to try it out alongside online retailer Mr Porter’s personal shopping service, which is more established and aimed at a more high-end audience.
Like most people, I’ve never used a personal shopper, so I’m excited; it feels like something one might do in Made in Chelsea, or at an England football training camp. It feels very luxurious but actually the service is offered for free by both Mr Porter and Topman, and there’s no obligation to buy anything at all.
With Mr Porter it’s simply a matter of emailing them your measurements, what you’re willing to spend, and what you’re after; for fun, I tell them that money is no object and want my wardrobe to reflect the autumn/winter 14 catwalk trends. A few hours pass and I have in my inbox an email from Tim, a personal shopper, explaining that this season “saw a lot of sportswear influences being used, mixing of fabrics/textures/patterns and as always, attention to details”, with a link to four outfits of six items each. My favourite suggestions are a Lanvin satin-and-wool jumper for £730 and a green Balmain puffa jacket for £1,955, both of which come from his first look and both of which are out of my price range. But they provide inspiration and Tim clearly listens to what I want. The service is very refined and grown up and all of Tim’s choices are still online if you’d like to have a look.
Topshop’s Google Hangout is a lot more playful. After booking a time slot I choose whether I’m after a “holiday shop”, a “seasonal update”, or a “special occasion” outfit, and so on, select a couple of looks I like from a multiple-choice moodboard, and finally I’m asked to upload some full-length photos of myself in my favourite clothes. I don’t own any such photos, so instead I send them my Guardian headshot and some catwalk photos of models wearing autumn/winter trends I like, such as flowery prints and oversized fits.
It’s a bit like playing a new video game and creating my own avatar. While I’m waiting for my appointment I watch a sitcom-style video introducing me to all seven of Topman Oxford Circus’s personal shoppers, who work together in the apartment-like setting of its penthouse. It’s faintly sickening, to be honest, but I’m undeterred; these people aren’t here to entertain me, they’re here to dress me. Also, as a freelancer who works from home, I’m always grateful for anyone to talk to, even if it’s just someone trapped inside my computer trying to make me buy a suit.
As it turns out, my personal shopper is called Daniel and he’s great. Dan’s a bit of a geezer, with more than a decade’s worth of experience in men’s fashion and an encyclopaedic knowledge of Topman’s stock. “I really wanted to get into personal shopping,” he tells me. “I’ve always loved that one-on-one client interaction, and just the idea of the job, coming in every day and enjoying what you’re doing. It’s always been a passion.” Some of the kids who work on the shop floors below won’t even look at me when I’m talking to them, and have absolutely no idea what’s going on; I’m glad that I have Daniel.
He chooses five small collections of clothes for me, and talks me through them on-screen; some are also hanging on a rail behind him, so Daniel can show me the details up close. I uploaded a flowery reference image so he’s chosen flowery prints. I uploaded an oversized clothing image so he suggests these £100 wide-legged trousers from Topman Design’s catwalk collection, which are awesome. I ask if there’s one thing he’d really recommend for me and he suggests a £225 black biker jacket with detachable sleeves, which is horrid, but I won’t hold that against him.
Both Topman and Mr Porter’s personal shoppers will leave you with a list of clothes, expertly chosen according to your wishes, that you can browse at your leisure, as well as their contact details in case you have any questions. Of course the two experiences are very different: Topman is a chatty mate, Mr Porter a loyal butler. But both are suited to men who don’t have time for shopping, or don’t like shopping, and still wish to dress well. They’re also excellent services for anyone living outside of London, offering an inside scoop on Topman’s more limited lines, and Mr Porter’s most exclusive items, completely free of charge.
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