EXCLUSIVE: Machine-A Embarks on Global Expansion With Mega Shanghai Store

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LONDON — British multibrand fashion retailer Machine-A plans to open its first international outpost in Shanghai, WWD has learned.

The Shanghai store, spanning around 2,640 square feet — which is 3.5 times bigger than the London one — will be located at 66 Yuyao Road in Jing’an District.

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Originally scheduled to open in early June, the opening time was delayed as the city went into a two-month strict lockdown to contain the Omicron outbreak. Now as the city recovers from the lockdown, the construction of the new store has been resumed and the aim is to open its doors around early September.

Stavros Karelis, founder and buying director of Machine-A, said the Shanghai store will be a hub for cultural and fashion exchange between London and Shanghai, as China has been a key market for Machine-A since the very beginning.

He revealed that Chinese consumers now represent more than 60 percent of the business. The store began to accept WeChat Pay and Alipay in 2018 and later launched official accounts on WeChat and Xiaohongshu to better serve its Chinese-speaking clientele.

“For me, it’s almost a natural step for Machine-A to open the first international store outside of the U.K. in Shanghai. I want it to be perceived as an appreciation of the support our Chinese audience has shown all these years,” Karelis said.

He added that while the aesthetic of the Shanghai space, which is converted from an old industrial factory, is slightly different from Machine-A London, the storytelling, in terms of the brands and the designer, will be presented in a similar manner.

There will be no separation between men’s and women’s offerings. A good number of Chinese emerging talents such as Louis Shengtao Chen, Steven Ma, Vii Victor x Wang, Samuel Guì Yang, Pronounce, Yueqi Qi and Windowsen will be mixed with global brands big and small including Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Maison Margiela, Lemaire, Peter Do, Kiko Kostadinov, Martine Rose, Kusikohc, Goomheo and Nensi Dojaka.

The bigger space will also give Machine-A Shanghai a lot more flexibility to run special projects, installations and parties in the store.

“In London, due to physical space limitations, we have to run a lot of projects and events outside of Machine-A. The idea with the Shanghai space is to have everything under one roof, and to be able to showcase all the beautiful works from each one of the designers we select to work with, whether they are local or coming from the international stage,” he added.

Stavros Karelis, cofounder of Machine-A - Credit: Courtesy
Stavros Karelis, cofounder of Machine-A - Credit: Courtesy

Courtesy

When asked about potential challenges, Karelis acknowledged that the multibrand market in China, especially in Shanghai, is very competitive, with prominent players such as I.T., Lane Crawford, Labelhood, Le Monde de SHC, ENG, The Bálancing, Assemble by Réel and Looknow all courting the city’s young and affluent customers.

Global players historically have not been able to perform well. For example, 10 Corso Como shut its seven-year-old 27,000-square-foot Shanghai store in 2019 due to stiff competition and poor management, while Maria Luisa’s China expansion ambition in partnership with Hong Kong-based Mazly Fashion Group derailed after the retailer passed away in 2015.

“I know that a concept store is not unique anymore, especially in Shanghai, where multibrand stores are booming. But based on our experience in London, I think we can still offer something that is going to be different from what exists there,” Karelis said.

He believes that Machine-A Shanghai can coexist with the others, “especially with what we do, which is about supporting emerging talents. The more retailers that we get behind an emerging brand, the more chances that the brand has to become successful. I believe that there is great potential synergy with a lot of different places to do something truly special,” he added.

The store will launch with a series of exclusive collaborations, with the most prominent of them being the opening of Raf Simons’ first shop-in-shop in Shanghai, designed by Glenn Sestig, a close collaborator of the Prada co-creative director.

Bianca Quets Luzi, chief executive officer at Raf Simons, said the new space will increase the brand’s visibility in China.

“We too have a huge fanbase in China. Stavros is not the kind of person who likes collections based on commercial pieces. It’s always show-related. A selection for Machine-A is different than the other shops that we are working with. The feedback we will be getting once the store is open will be super valuable for us to better the Chinese market,” she added.

It’s understood that the Machine-A Shanghai store will operate independently, with support from its parent company Tomorrow Group, which took a majority stake in the retailer in 2020.

Stefano Martinetto, CEO and cofounder of Tomorrow Group, said, putting Machine-A’s first international freestanding store in Shanghai is a logical decision, after observing how the market has shifted due to the pandemic.

“The world has changed in the past two years. We came to accept that rather than one unified global market, there are very large regional markets, especially the Chinese one, which are operating by a different set of rules and restrictions, and consumer consumption patterns inside the borders.

“When we invested in Machine-A, it was always working with the intention to expand the retail store, both physical and online. Our role is to support Stavros’ vision and to make Machine-A Shanghai what it is in London. It’s a point of reference for the youth culture, with both emerging and established international brands, but also a strong selection of local talents, who are becoming extremely relevant internationally,” Martinetto added.

With Machine-A Shanghai, he hopes that it can bring the Chinese market “a unique point of view on the relevance of insurgent brands.”

While the Shanghai store will carry some of Tomorrow’s brands, Martinetto made it clear that it’s an independent decision from Karelis and the team when it comes to what brands land on the shop floor.

The Machine-A store in London. - Credit: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa/WWD
The Machine-A store in London. - Credit: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa/WWD

Francisco Gomez de Villaboa/WWD

Giovanni Pungetti, managing director of Asia at Tomorrow Group, will lead the local operation from Shanghai. Prior to joining Tomorrow in 2021, Pungetti served as CEO at OTB Group Greater China. Before that, he was the CEO of Maison Margiela for 15 years.

“What we are trying to do is to translate the London experience in a very respectful way. Machine-A has a sizable following in China. Many in the local creative industry have followed the Machine-A journey from the early days. That’s why we also want to explore this meaningful connection and work on creative projects with our local community to expand the Machine-A experience,” Pungetti said.

He also pointed out that Machine-A is trying to create a new retail destination for the city. A short walk away from Shanghai’s luxury retail center Plaza 66, the up-and-coming area of Yuyao Road has a few fashion and lifestyle offerings but is not yet as well known as other trendy neighborhoods such as Anfu Road, Julu Road and Xintiandi in the city.

Pungetti believes that with Machine-A opening there, the store can disrupt Shanghai’s retail landscape as it did with the London store. Since the opening of Machine-A on Soho’s Brewer Street in 2014, a slew of fashion labels and retailers, including Palace, Wood Wood and Fiorucci, have followed and opened grand flagships nearby, making Brewer Street a new destination for fashion lovers.

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