When I really think about the number of independent multi-label boutiques in London that I would heartily recommend, excluding the biggies like Matches and Browns or the department stores, then I could in fact count them on my ten fingers. The number may not even reach ten and over the past decade, they've also come and gone (The Shop at Maison Bertaux, The Pineal Eye etc). I banged on about Machine-A at its original Berwick Street address, formerly known as Digitaria, when it opened back in 2009, seeking to sell edgy with a capital E, and perhaps scaring off the mainstream crowd of Soho. I personally loved its selection of young graduates, small independents and leanings towards fetishistic or hard-edged aesthetics. A window full of limp scarecrow-esque dummies or frightening masks weren't the ticket to retail success though.
Therefore owner Stavros Karelis shut up shop, relocated to 13 Brewer Street (in between two massage parlours if you must know…) with a whole new buying and aesthetic outlook. In effect, Machine-A 2.0 has gone more high end, stocking brands that the average fashion joe walking into the store (they've done brisk trade in the first week of its opening) would know. That doesn't make the store any less interesting than its previous incarnation. In fact, the selection perhaps reflects an eclectic crosssection of what London fashion is about at the moment, something which resonates on an international as well as a domestic level.
Menswear designer Alex Mattsson has worked with Machine-A on an exclusive range of t-shirts and iPhone cases as well as a light installation slash changing room area, in what is actually a fairly minimal interior design space, all the better to let the clothes do the talking.
The first significant shift in Karelis' buy strategy for the store is to stock hero brands such as Mugler menswear and Raf Simons, as seen here in the campaign imagery styled by Anna Trevelyan (also part of the Machine-A gang). Whilst hardly "mainstream", they're brands that the average fashion joe in London would seek out and at the same time, be introduced to the other brands at Machine-A. The same goes for the inclusion of MCM bags, which sit perfectly in amongst the other designers.
Machine-A also reflects the gamut of styles that London Fashion Week currently plays host to. Rather than concentrating on the very young fashion grassroots, Karelis has chosen designers that are strong but not necessarily household level yet. Christopher Raeburn's functional outerwear, Sibling's funtime knits, Louise Gray's print mix and Nasir Mazhar's sporty ready to wear and inventive millinery – it's great to actually see these London-based labels mix it up in a physical store. In particular, Machine-A is actually Louise Gray's sole London stockist, something which I was shocked to find out (why exactly is it that nobody has taken the Gray gamble yet despite the product looking so strong on the rails?). It's obviously great to be able to refer people to a bricks n' mortar store where these designers, which I regularly bang on about, can be bought.
On the menswear front, Agi & Sam (had no idea they did such a cute collaboration with Tabio socks) and Shaun Samson represent the experimental yet astute spirit that is making London Collections Men so exciting to watch.
That said, Machine-A hasn't completely abandoned its original ethos of supporting super young designers. Ashley Williams, the Westminister graduate who has just shown her latest Elvis-nostalgia-tinged collection as part of Fashion East, is in Machine-A, brightening things up with her ice cream prints and lattice knits.
Trompe l'oeil neoprene pieces by RCA graduate Peiran Gong jump out at you as shadows and relief detailing is cleverly created by gradiated colours. These pieces are available on a made to order basis as are painted anarchic coats by Central Saint Martins graduate Tigran Avetisyan. Machine-A plans on selecting graduates on the basis that they can a) produce their pieces and b) have the potential to grow their own label should they wish to.
Accessories and jewellery in particular are the centrepiece of Machine-A's modest space. Fred Butler x Swatch's collaboration may be the eyecatcher but the store has been shifting more subtle pieces such as Kyle Hopkins' rings (they can take an imprint of your finger and cast it into a made to order ring for that extra personal touch), enamel spiked rings from D by Dominic Jones, Ambush' visually impacting pieces and Bethan Laura Wood's composite rings.
These pics are just a small indication of what's to come as of course with any new store opening, it takes a season or two to really hit their stride and to see the full scope of their approach to buying. Machine-A's return is much welcome in Soho, where shopping has fallen down the activity agenda, in comparison to say, eating out. The likes of Other, Opening Ceremony and now Machine-A though are waving the flag that there are still independent fashion gems that aren't designer designer designer to be found in town, in amongst the sea of chains.