Etam was one of several fashion or boutique chains which were popular with young women in the mid-20th century. Its main rivals through the 1960s and 1970s included Dorothy Perkins, Chelsea Girl (sigh!), Richard Shops, Wallis and Miss Selfridge. In later years, Etam suffered competition from a host of more exciting newcomers such as Next, The Gap, New Look, River Island, Top Shop, H&M and Zara.
Etam was founded in Berlin in 1910 by an underwear manufacturer, Max Lindemann. It was named after a soft cotton or worsted fabric named ‘etamine’ which was used in Lindemann’s garments. After the Great War, Etam companies were set up in different countries. The British chain was founded in 1923, with the opening of an Etam shop on London’s Oxford Street. Soon afterwards a shop at 217 Regent Street, in a new building by the architects Yates, Cook & Darbyshire, was fitted up by Pollards, an established London shopfitter. This shared an entrance lobby with a shoe shop named Guilbert; the two premises are now unified as Hobbs. British Etam was followed by similar chains in France, Argentina, the Netherlands and Belgium
The remarkably long-lived signature logo of Etam quickly became a standard feature of major British shopping centres. In 1952 the company sold its first range of ready-to-wear clothing. A spin-off brand for young girls, Tammy, was launched in 1975. By the time Etam was floated in 1984 it comprised 108 branches. In later years, as it attempted to go up-market, the company admitted that the ‘cheap and cheerful’ image of Etam in the 1980s was aimed squarely at ‘the Romford office girl’ – an early example, perhaps, of ‘Essex Girl’ stereotyping.
Two new brands acquired by the Etam Group in 1987 (Snob for teenagers and Peter Brown for men’s wear) were a drain on the company. The distinctive yellow signature logo was dropped from fascias in 1994, when the 224 shops were revamped.
A hostile takeover bid from Oceania in 1991 was rebuffed, but in 1998 Etam – now struggling – was taken over by its French namesake, Etam Développement. In 2005 the business was sold to Philip Green. Many shops were offered for sale to other brands – Monsoon bought 50 – while others were transformed into Arcadia brands such as Dorothy Perkins and Top Shop. The Etam name vanished from the British high street, and Tammy Girl was absorbed into BHS. Today Etam shops might be encountered on shopping streets in foreign countries, but in the UK it is merely an on-line retailer.