Chinese and British design graduates create capsule collections for boutiques
Graduate fashion shows provide an ideal hunting ground for buyers to find new creative talent as they scout emerging designers to work with.
Machine-A, a small independent boutique tucked away in London's Soho, has a knack of discovering young, irreverent designers. Nasir Mazhar and Astrid Andersen were among its early finds and these young avant-garde labels are anchored alongside directional brands such as Raf Simons, Hussein Chalayan, and rising stars Agi & Sam. Co-owner Stavros Karelis' hot tip is Grace Wales Bonner, who presented her spring-summer 2016 collection at London Collections: Men.
Hong Kong's Joyce boutique, which is somewhat larger, is also aiming to nurture new talent, so it has collaborated with Machine-A in a partnership that arrives in stores this month. Both boutiques hand-picked four talented young graduates from its part of the world - four Chinese and four British - to design eight capsule collections to be sold exclusively in Joyce and Machine-A, and filmed by visionary founder of SHOWstudio, Nick Knight.
Michael Mok, general merchandise manager of Joyce, selected Ximon Lee, Kay Kwok, Kenneth Cheung and womenswear designer Xiao Li to create bold, experimental capsule collections pushing digital printing and technical silhouettes to sell at Machine-A. For Joyce, Karelis picked Wales Bonner, who is noted for her cool androgynous aesthetic worked in denim.
"She is one of the biggest talents in London right now," he says. Also chosen were Adam Mark James, who designs silky pyjama styles worn as outerwear; Chris O'Carroll, whose aesthetic is informed by music and sub-cultures resulting in a streetwear collection appliquéd with patches of mock band merchandise; and Kiko Kostadinov, who is studying for his MA and has designed textured garments with raw edging and drape details. "We did a project with him and Stussy which sold out in a day," says Karelis.
It is extremely rare for one store buyer to buy a collection for another, but a trust has built up between Karelis and Michael Mok, who met at the London menswear shows about three years ago.
"We go to the same shows and select the same designers," says Mok. "We think Machine-A has a very avant-garde approach to new designers, which is similar to our philosophy, so we thought it would be interesting to collaborate."
"This is the sort of thing you do with people whose vision, style and aesthetic you trust," says Karelis. "I admire their vision at Joyce."
Machine-A is already on the radar of savvy young Chinese consumers heading through London. Karelis says 85 per cent of his business is with Chinese, who he says have a thirst for good fashion. "Customers have changed a lot. Social media means they have a far greater knowledge of young designers, and customers come in wanting the key item of the season and to connect with emerging designers. They seek unique brands and individuality."
This factor was one of the most important in the selection process for the two buyers. "The garment itself should identify the designer, not the label. A strong identity is essential for us in selecting a new designer," says Mok.
However, the challenge of working with emerging talent is in the production and pricing of garments. Karelis and Mok were involved at every stage in the process, guiding the young designers. "We have given them advice mainly on striking a balance between creativity and profitability," says Mok.
"We have worked hard to pick the best talent," says Karelis. "It is a big opportunity for graduates to get access to two stores that so many established designers would kill to get into."