October 15, 2018
A feminist book display is controversially dismantled by retail giant Topshop
by Nikki Griffiths
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink by Scarlett Curtis is riding high in the UK at the moment. A collection of essays on what the F word means, it contains pieces by Emma Watson, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan and Kat Dennings amongst others, curated by journalist and activist Curtis. It is published by Penguin Books in partnership with the United Nations charity Girl Up. Girl Up was founded in 2010 with the goal of preparing girls for leadership positions. But how much of the book’s success (it’s number 11 on Amazon UK) can be attributed to a publicity stunt gone wrong… or therefore, perhaps, right?
Topshop on Oxford Street, London, is an institution: emerging from Oxford Street tube, Topshop sits proudly right by the corner of Regent Street. It a fashion Mecca for 13-24 year-old girls and often carries fashion brands from big names including Kate Moss and Beyoncé. Curtis’ book was to have its own impressive pop-up in the store, promoting the brand and selling the book. Low and behold, it appeared in all its pink glory on publication morning, October 4th. But just twenty minutes later, it had vanished.
For anyone hoping to visit the pop-up, after a huge amount of work on this ground-breaking partnership we assembled our stand this morning and were raring to go – however, just twenty minutes later it had been dismantled by Topshop.
— Penguin Books UK (@PenguinUKBooks) October 4, 2018
This, apparently, was down to Topshop’s chairman, Sir Philip Green. After he viewed it that morning, the pop-up was promptly removed. Green isn’t adverse to controversy. He’s been accused of tax avoidance, and he sold bankrupt retail chain BHS in 2015 for only £1… while himself collecting £586m ($774m) in dividends. BHS went bust in 2016. Sir Green was awarded a knighthood in 2006, but in 2016, after the BHS debacle, the House of Commons voted to strip him of his title. So far it hasn’t happened.
In an interview with the Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon, Curtis expressed her dismay at Green’s decision:
“Topshop as a brand, and Philip Green as a CEO have spent the last 54 years dressing the nation’s teenage girls – and those in more than 40 other countries, from the United States to Slovenia, Ireland and Lebanon. By taking down the pop up, the company is signalling it won’t endorse a movement that is very simply fighting for women and men to have equal rights. I find this sickening; a clear and chilling example of the patriarchy in action.”
A Topshop spokesperson responded with a statement a day later on Twitter, saying:
“Yesterday we made the decision from a production and creative standpoint to retract the Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies pop-up from one of our stores. We are sorry – this in no way reflects our stance on feminism and we will be making a donation of £25,000 to Girl Up. We continue to fully support the sentiment of the book, Scarlett Curtis, feminism and equality.”
Green’s motives aren’t known, but let’s face it, he’s not exactly a scrupulous guy so there could be a plethora of reasons ranging from power to money to prejudice. The charity donation does not cover the act. You can bet your ass that some marketing exec right now is in deep shit for agreeing to the promotion in the first place. How dare they want to empower young women! Know your place girls.
The stunt certainly hasn’t harmed book sales. Nor has the fact that curator Curtis is the daughter of film director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill). Money talks.
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.