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Wannabe celebs provide the silver on screen

Ask a big-name rag trade retailer to name a rival they admire and the response is almost always none. Insist they name one and the response is almost always the same:

Nick Robertson, the 40-year-old who has built the online fashion business from scratch, is pleased as punch that a business he dreamed up for selling products that shoppers saw on TV is so highly rated. So are shareholders in the Aim-listed company. Four years ago the shares were changing hands at 5p. Today they are nudging 282p, valuing the business at £206m and Robertson's stake at £28m - not bad for a business with an annual turnover of £80m.

David Jeary, an analyst at the broker Investec, expects the heady head·y  
adj. head·i·er, head·i·est
a. Intoxicating or stupefying: heady liqueur.

 growth rate to continue and has set a 12-month target price for the stock at 355p.

Asos, for those with their fashion heads stuck in the sand, was founded in 2000 and built on showing young shoppers how to emulate the designer looks of celebrity magazine favourites such as Victoria Beckham, Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Dee Lohan (born July 2 1986) is an American actress and pop music singer. Lohan started in show business as a child fashion model for magazine advertisement and television commercials.  and Jennifer Lopez for a fraction of the cost.

The site still links looks to faces. Customers can click on their favourite celeb/wag/pop star and view clothes that look a bit like things they have been pictured in. Want to look like Coleen McLoughlin Coleen Mary McLoughlin (born 3 April, 1986 in Liverpool, Merseyside, England) is the fiancée of Manchester United F.C. and England football star, Wayne Rooney. The media interest in Rooney has enabled Coleen to become a celebrity in her own right. , Wayne Rooney's intended? Well a "cupped satin satin, lustrous silk in which the filling is so arranged as to bind the warp as seldom as possible and so spaced that practically nothing shows but the warp. Satin was first woven by the ancient silk weavers of China and was greatly desired by early Greeks and Romans.  corset corset, article of dress designed to support or modify the figure. Greek and Roman women sometimes wrapped broad bands about the body. In the Middle Ages a short, close-fitting, laced outer bodice or waist was worn. By the 16th cent.  in the style of Coleen McLoughlin" may be one way. Maybe you prefer the style of Kate Moss? The cheapest way is not to buy her signature range at Topshop but to choose a £6 Asos Lurex vest "in the style of" the Croydon supermodel.

Today, however, the site, and the business, have morphed into something far more aspirational. Though 70% of sales are still own label, the site is also selling some 250 brands, including luxury labels such as Balenciaga and YSL YSL Yves Saint Laurent
YSL Yolk Syncytial Layer
YSL Youth Ski League
YSL Yugoslavian Sign Language (SIL code)
YSL St Leonard, New Brunswick, Canada - St Leonard Apt (Airport Code)
YSL Your Second Life

Robertson makes no apologies for its celebrity bias: "We are not doing anything different to what women's magazines this is a list of women's magazines, magazines that have been published primarily for a readership of women. Currently published

  • ''Alice
  • ''Allure
  • Bibi
  • Bis
  • Bitch
  • Blood & Thunder Magazine
  • BUST
 have been doing since the beginning of time. We are presenting fashion in the way it has always been presented and the way people like to see it presented - with pictures of people wearing stuff."

To prove his point he scoots off to find the latest copies of Vogue and Grazia. Turning the pages, he says: "Ooh look, there is a picture of a celebrity wearing something. There's Kylie Noun 1. kylie - an Australian boomerang; one side flat and the other convex

boomerang, throw stick, throwing stick - a curved piece of wood; when properly thrown will return to thrower
. There's Victoria ... and there's Kate Moss ... and there's Kate again."

The target audience is women aged 18 to 34 and Asos has 1.7 million registered users. Some 180,000 potential customers browse the site each day. It receives 200,000 orders a month, averaging £60 a time. Menswear mens·wear also men's wear  
Clothing for men.


clothing for men

menswear nconfección f de caballero 
 makes up 15% of sales; beauty and cosmetics ranges account for another 3%.

Constant shoots

Asos HQ, with 200 staff, is a former tobacco factory in Camden. It is one of those trendy "workspaces" beloved of dotcom companies. Robertson and the senior team work out in the open-plan office. The buying department, as always, resembles a jumble sale. The catwalk and studio are used in videoing and photographing every item of clothing - and there are 8,300 on the site. The stock is turned - replaced - every nine weeks, so there are a serious number of snaps to take.

It is the range that the internet can provide that Robertson wants to underline underline

an animal's ventral profile; the shape of the belly when viewed from the side, e.g. pendulous, pot-belly, tucked up, gaunt.
. There are 354 full-price dresses available on Asos. There are also 53 from premium-brand ranges and another 214 on the virtual clearance rails. "The Topshop site," he says, "has got 64."

Not that he intends to disparage dis·par·age  
tr.v. dis·par·aged, dis·par·ag·ing, dis·par·ag·es
1. To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle. See Synonyms at decry.

2. To reduce in esteem or rank.
 Topshop. "I love it," he says - several times. And despite its much larger range, Asos is still smaller, in terms of turnover, than Topshop's flagship Oxford Street store. "We are tiny really ... but we have an enormous opportunity."

Robertson's background is in advertising, but there is retailing in the family genes as his great-grandfather founded the Austin Reed
see also Austin Reed (fiction)
Austin Reed is a British fashion retailer founded in 1900 known for its menswear. It is an upmarket chain with over 70 outlets, which has been struggling to overcome a traditionalist image and a decline in the market for
 menswear chain.

The Asos chief executive left school after A-levels and worked as a media buyer until 1996, when he set up a business called Entertainment Marketing to place products in films and TV programmes. By 2000 he was running a website detailing which products were used in movies and on TV. The business was called AsSeenOnScreen, and it was fashion that proved the biggest success. The product-placement operation was finally ditched last year.

Other fashion retailers are having a tough time as debt-laden shoppers rein back spending: Next has warned sales may fall 7% in the coming months and M&S says the downturn could go on for two years. Ethel Austin Ethel Austin is a large British clothing retailer with a UK-wide network of more than 300 stores extending from Scotland to South West England, and from Wales to the South East England.  went into administration this week - a path trod trod  
Past tense and a past participle of tread.


the past tense and a past participle of tread

trod, trodden tread
 by several other fashion chains this year including Elvi, Base, Select and Dolcis. Robertson, however, reckons Asos will sail through largely unscathed.

"We are not seeing any signs of a downturn. There are a lot of reasons - things are changing at Asos very quickly and there's so much stuff to look at and buy." He quotes research that suggests "30% growth is guaranteed online" and the fact that "pundits are saying 10% of all clothes will be bought online by 2010 - compared to 3% now".

Robertson is full of ideas for the future. "It can be what we make it," he says. The Asos range may already be large, but he wants it to be bigger, stocking the entire ranges of high-street chains and turning Asos into an online fashion mall. "High-street shoppers go to seven to 10 shops, but internet shoppers go to just two or three websites, with bigger ranges."

High-street chains, he says, like to put their product on Asos because "it looks better than it does on their own website because they don't have the catwalk".

Different hats

There have been mutterings in the trade that Asos is trimming its margins by selling so many brands. Robertson says critics just don't get it. "Take the traditional retail hat off," he says. "In traditional retail, margin is everything but it is not the be all and end all be all and end all or be-all and end-all  
The quintessential or all-important element: "Not that the more spectacular athleticism is the be all and end all of free skating. Spins . . .
 of this business because we don't have stores."

He does, however, have big ideas. He is keen to show off the Asos magazine, a handbag-sized publication - 100 pages with plans for 200 - with an audited circulation of 360,000. "By the end of this year we will be doing 700,000 and it will be the biggest fashion monthly."

Does he ever envisage en·vis·age  
tr.v. en·vis·aged, en·vis·ag·ing, en·vis·ag·es
1. To conceive an image or a picture of, especially as a future possibility: envisaged a world at peace.

 having any shops? "Categorically no ... well, if I could have the Topshop Oxford Circus Oxford Circus is the area of London at the busy intersection of Regent Street and Oxford Street, in the City of Westminster. It is served by Oxford Circus tube station, which is directly beneath the junction itself.  site, then yes. It's not that I want a shop, it's because of the marketing benefit. But it is not going to happen in the next five years and it would a shop, not shopssss."

Making a rather more rapid appearance, he says, will be a new intelligent website, like Amazon, which recognises individual shoppers and only shows them relevant products. "So when my wife visits Asos she sees a different shop to the girl in the office."

Then will come Asos marketplace, a cross between eBay and Asos, so customers can run their own mini-boutiques, selling their own clothes online alongside a selection of Asos goods. Asos will then pay a commission or offer a discount.

Another project, codenamed Asos Red, will see the site offering designer end-of-lines at knockdown prices .

The father of a five-month-old daughter, Robertson is also toying with a childrenswear business. "But we would not do it under the Asos name. We don't think kids and fashion go together."

Asos's growth has not been without hiccups Hiccups Definition

Hiccups are the result of an involuntary, spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm followed by the closing of the throat.
 - in 2005 the Buncefield oil depot An oil depot (sometimes called a Tank Farm, an "Installation" or an oil terminal) is an industrial facility for the storage of oil and/or petrochemical products and from which these products are usually transported to end users or further storage facilities.  explosion blew the roof off its new Hertfordshire warehouse. Sir Philip Green, says Robertson, was one of the first people to offer help. "He rang up and suggested we use his loss assessor. He was very helpful."

So does he think the acquisitive billionaire would be interested in adding Asos to his portfolio? "No," says Robertson, "he doesn't buy premium-rated businesses at the top of their game."

So, to return to the original question - which retailer does Robertson admire? "H&M, Zara, River Island," he offers. "But I just love Topshop."


Age 40

EducationCanford School Canford School is a full boarding coeducational public school with a significant minority of day pupils, in the village of Canford Magna, near Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England. The school was founded in 1923. , Dorset

Career1987 Young and Rubicam, media buyer1991 Carat, media buyer1996 Entertainment Marketing, founder2000 Asos, chief executive

FamilyMarried, one daughter

InterestsSkiing, fitness cycling, armchair sport, Chelsea FC
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Date:Apr 18, 2008
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