Featured in
Issue 222

What Will Happen to Oxford Street’s Topshop?

As the high street institution shuts for good, five artists and writer, including Pablo Bronstein and Lubaina Himid, propose ideas for Philip Green’s fallen kingdom

BY Pablo Bronstein, Bod Mellor, Rottingdean Bazaar, Julie Verhoeven AND Lubaina Himid in Features , Opinion , Roundtables | 22 OCT 21

Top Shop London
Pablo Bronstein, Detail of hasp and padlock in Ormolu on said shutters, 2021, ink and watercolour on paper, 30 × 23 cm, specially commissioned by frieze. Courtesy: the artist and Herald St, London

No Jacket Required

A retirement mansion for one by Julie Verhoeven

Welcome to No Jacket Required, the flagship care home for one exclusive resident: the ‘King of the High Street’, Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green. By royal appointment. 

Let us slow down the rampant fast-fashion model of yesteryear into something more lean and sedate. Let us park up, disable the accelerator and leave our love of speed safely trussed up in the boot of the car with our wellies and waterproofs. 

The interior of the care home is brutalist in appearance: an empty vessel devoid of furnishing, three floors of nothingness aside from a sun recliner/director’s chair for the place’s sole resident, which perches atop an island of dust. The escalators and lifts have been disabled due to high running costs, as have the lights. Soft furnishings from India have been ordered, but these have been held up in customs due to some irregularity with the paperwork. Unfortunate. 

Despite its rather bleak and barren appearance, the care home is overrun with invigilators, many of whom may be familiar to Sir Phil from their years of service at British Home Stores, the venerable chain that, in his former existence as a retail magnate, he sold in 2015 for GB£1 to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell’s Retail Acquisitions. (When the inevitable happened and BHS collapsed, 11,000 jobs were lost and there was a deficit of more than GB£350 million in the pension scheme. Threatened with being stripped of his knighthood, Sir Phil helped make good the scheme with the assistance of his Monaco-domiciled wife, Lady Tina.)

The invigilators are dressed in uniformed, monogrammed, crew wear – reminding Sir Phil, perhaps, of sunnier days on his superyacht. The staff are happy to be of any assistance, as they conduct their choreographed routine, swirling, circling and spiralling around Sir Phil on his dirt island like sharks, smiling inanely. Care and nurture: the brand ethos of his company, the Arcadia Group.

Nostalgia: a tonic for the impotent at No Jacket Required. 

Rottingdean Bazaar
Courtesy: Rottingdean Bazaar 

Top & Bottom Shop

Escalators, ghosts and a nail bar by Bod Mellor

I will spray the words ‘& Bottom’ between ‘Top’ and ‘Shop’ to indicate the vast, abandoned building’s new, collective ownership. 

Hopefully, the escalators will still be there to keep patrons inside long enough to forget how to escape – no flagship store is complete without some element of free entertainment. 

The main attraction – set across two floors – will be a ghost library, called Go West, dedicated to all those who have died from COVID-19. Members will be allowed to borrow up to four ghosts simultaneously to take off-site or may, instead, take up to ten ghosts to the mirrored former changing rooms to engage with onsite. 

In recognition of the local area’s rich history and previous inhabitants – sex workers, confidence tricksters, the condemned prisoners who were processed along Oxford Street to be hanged at the former Tyburn Gallows – there will be no economic support to provide living members or archived ghosts with capital. There will be no fines for the late return or theft of ghosts, as all such transgressions will be celebrated as charitable acts. 

Once a month, members of the ghost library will be able to enter their names into a tombola for a chance to participate in the regular public speech parades. Winners will be led from the store to Speakers’ Corner and back in a pantomime horse-drawn cart. Upon returning, they will be allowed to speak publicly in the shop windows – on purpose-built, gravity-free gallows – for a maximum of 12 hours.

The nail bar and cafes will be retained

Top Shop Londonc
Pablo Bronstein, Security shutters in ormolu as installed on former Topshop in Oxford Street, 2021, ink and watercolour on paper, 30 × 23 cm, specially commissioned by frieze. Courtesy: the artist and Herald St, London

For Her, Not Me

A department store half-remembered, half-imagined by Lubaina Himid

A department store should have at least three distinct entrances: the Food Hall, the Perfume Emporium and the Handbag Heaven. It ought to take up the entire block of a wide and busy street in the commercial centre of a city. 

The experience of grandeur, an early understanding of desire and free entrance, are key to why I love these institutions and have held them close for more than 60 years.

The names of each can conjure glorious afternoons spent with my mother and aunt, with the women I have adored, and countless delicious moments buying secret and surprise presents for them all.

Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (1952) doubtless has a special place in my heart because a spark of love is lit between two women in a toy department. 

The perfume section must have Jicky by Guerlain; the music floor must have a soundscape of live piano, which wafts through to adjacent departments.

There will be a soft, neat handbag in burgundy or burnt orange that I can squeeze and smell. 

I may buy something in haberdashery: threads or ribbons, scissors perhaps.

The cushions can be square or long, silk or wool, holding the promise of softness on my cheeks. I want clever patterns, deep rich colours, but just too many to cope with so that I end up not buying anything at all. 

The book department for celebrity signings; the pet department for songbirds, sawdust and diamond dog collars. The lingerie for her, not me. The Father Christmas Grotto for the wonderful train through the cotton-wool landscape and my desperate plea for a bicycle that never materialized. 

In the cafe, I used to love toasted teacakes and weak orange juice; now, I’d hope for an oatmilk flat white and lemon drizzle cake. 

In the Food Hall, I still want the French cheeses, the fancy biscuits, the herring, the gherkins

Rottingdean Bazaar
Courtesy: Rottingdean Bazaar

This article first appeared in frieze issue 222 with the headline ‘Five Propositions for Oxford Street Topshop’

Main image: Pablo Bronstein, Security shutters in ormolu as installed on former Topshop in Oxford Street (detail), 2021, ink and watercolour on paper, 30 × 23 cm, specially commissioned by frieze. Courtesy: the artist and Herald St, London


Pablo Bronstein is an artist. His solo show ‘Hell in Its Heyday’ is on view at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, UK, from 6 October to 2 January 2022. An accompanying book is published by Walther König. He lives in London and Deal, Kent.

Bod Mellor is an artist. Their public mural to George Michael was unveiled in Brent, London, UK, in 2020, and their novel, Sirens, was published by Montez Press in 2019. They live in London. 

Rottingdean Bazaar was formed by James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks in 2015. Their practice incorporates creative direction, fashion design, styling, art and film. They lecture in fashion at universities including Central Saint Martins, London, UK, University of Westminster, London, and HEAD Genève, Switzerland. They live in Rottingdean, UK.

Julie Verhoeven is an artist, designer and illustrator. She is a lecturer on the MA Fashion, Central Saint Martins, London, UK. She lives in London.

Lubaina Himid is an artist and cultural activist. Her show ‘Make Do and Mend’ is on view at the Flag Foundation, New York, USA, from 12 September 2024 until 18 January 2025.