A burgeoning multibrand fashion retail scene has not only made shopping in China a more entertaining affair but has carved out a space for local creatives who have made it a form of personal expression.
1. Common Place, Beijing
Founded by Chinese artists Ji Zhang and Cheng Huang, Common Place was launched in 2016 after the duo graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Utilizing a former factory building owned by Zhang’s father, Common Place features a menswear store, an art gallery and is partially utilized as Zhang’s personal art studio. Located outside the urban core of Beijing, the shop has created a name for itself within the city’s artist community.
“Some of my collector friends and friends from college shop here,” Zhang says. “Brands we sell don’t need that much exposure. I prefer to sell fashion the way galleries sell artworks. I just care about having the right people seeing the pieces.”
Unless Zhang wants to stop working with a brand, items never go on sale at Common Place, and there’s ample real estate in the almost 54,000-square-foot store to double as an archival storage space for designers such as Walter Van Beirendonck, Boris Bidjan Saberi and Marc Le Bihan, as the shop continues to take risks.
“We always preferred the lesser-known brands that seem like no one will ever buy,” Zhang says. “But if the fashion is good, we just keep working with them.” Having his dad as a generous landlord means Zhang and his partner “can afford to take a more zen approach to retail.”
2. Anchoret, Beijing
Launched in 2012 as a small courtyard shop in Beijing’s hutong, or residential alleyways, Anchoret relocated to Taikoo Li Sanlitun in 2017, taking up a quiet corner of the popular retail complex.
“We want to create a space cut off from the hustle and bustle of city life,” says Nicky Chau, one half of the husband-and-wife duo behind Anchoret. “Just like the name of the store, which means a recluse,” Chau’s husband Onkit Wong chimes in.
Originally from Hong Kong, Chau and Wong are drawn to Beijing for its “weirdness.”
“Beijing is a lot like Berlin — it looks beaten up, but it’s the city where most artists come to live and create,” Chau says. Local creatives, such as architects, filmmakers, musicians and even celebrities, are Anchoret’s target audience, who prefer brands such as Ziggy Chen, John Alexander Skelton, Peter Do, Hed Mayner and Paul Harnden Shoemakers. “Our customers look for a sense of depth and rarity,” says Chau.
Anchoret will soon open a second shop five minutes’ walk away from its Taikoo Li store. “It’s so close to our shopping mall store because there’s not much street shop culture in Beijing,” Chau explains. The new store will showcase a more unisex brand mix and aim to provide a more intimate setting for its shoppers. “It won’t feel like you’re in the middle of Sanlitun the minute you walk into our store,” Chau promises.
3. Machine-A, Shanghai
The legendary British fashion retailer‘s first China store landed in Shanghai more than a month ago. Located in an up-and-coming retail complex in downtown Shanghai, the shop feels like home to those familiar with the Machine-A format, which reflects its founder Stavros Karelis’ bold buying and merchandising attitude.
For the launch of the store, Machine-A featured New York-based Chinese designer Bad Binch Tongtong‘s design in its window display, whose bouncy hula hoop skirts had been making waves on social media. A Raf Simons shop-in-shop designed by Glenn Sestig, a close collaborator of the Prada co-creative director, also takes up a prominent section of the store.
“Some brands may look different in comparison to when they’re shown in other shops, perhaps a little more conceptual,” says Giovanni Pungetti, managing director of Asia at Tomorrow Group, who is leading the Machine-A local operation from Shanghai. “We try to create our fashion language in some way, to create a community that goes beyond the social demographic profile.
“Engagement is the word Stavros is always using,” Pungetti adds. “Engagement in terms of cultural attitudes and behavior. We think in English, but we speak Chinese.”
4. LMDS, Shanghai
LMDS, short for Le Monde de SHC, launched four years ago as a small designer boutique in a quiet part of downtown Shanghai.
Stocked with fashion, lifestyle items, books and magazines, the store became a curated space that reflected the founder Eric Young‘s personal taste and lifestyle obsessions. The shop was somewhat of a replica of his home, reflecting East meets West aesthetics.
By staying faithful to his world view, Young, a veteran GQ editor and boutique PR agency executive, has built a sophisticated “fashion playground” for the fashionable affluents in the city. The store has since expanded to three floors of the building and a café.
“LMDS welcomes all sorts of fashion lovers. Because our shop is at an unconventional retail location, guests need to seek us out, but that’s a good filter to have,” Young says. “Many of our customers are fashion industry insiders or VIC customers at luxury brands. They come in hopes of finding designer pieces that are different, tasteful and of good quality.”
LMDS will keep on expanding its scope of brands and format to maintain relevancy in the increasingly competitive Shanghai multibrand boutique market. New brands this season include 16Arlington and Seekings. A Dries Van Noten trunk show is also in the works. “I always pay attention to the overall feel of a new brand. The concept, design, product and stability are all critical factors. I still feel like a freshman in the retail space, having to face many challenges at times, but this will not deter us from bringing something new to our customers every season. “
5. Hug, Chengdu
Just like its name, walking into Hug feels like a soft embrace, a quiet expression of feminine energy. Located in a shopping mall in downtown Chengdu, Hug is a light-filled ground floor shop that highlights concrete materials, curved points and warm colors, portraying a modern yet natural aesthetic. “The world is full of ‘hype’ and superficial small talk. The existence of Hug is to present sincere, wholesome and pure design to the world,” says Vicky Yu, who founded Hug six years ago in Chengdu.
Hug has since expanded to two stores in Chengdu, the second of which is located within the same shopping mall. One shop has recently been renovated into a Jil Sander pop-up store, a second for the OTB-owned brand in China, after one hosted by LMDS this spring.
This season, Hug expanded its feminine point of view to include more playful brands, such as Jacquemus, Kiko Kostadinov‘s womenswear line, Sunnei and Toga. The recently renovated flagship store also features an unexpected fun factor: a small manicure shop is tucked in a small corner of the second floor. The juxtaposition of high fashion and nail art is quintessentially Chengdu: a city known for its relaxed and laid-back lifestyle.
6. B1ock, Hangzhou
Launched by the Hangzhou-based fashion company JNBY Group, B1ock takes up a 10-story building within the company’s 17-building headquarters complex OoEli, designed by Renzo Piano.
Positioned as the first buyer department store focused on “contemporary art and lifestyle aesthetics in China,” B1ock tapped artist Theaster Gates to create artworks that add a touch of “unexpected space art” to the 64,000-square-foot store.
To add a sense of surprise and discovery, merchandising at B1ock is updated every 15 days, while floor layouts are changed monthly.
A floor dedicated to Japanese home furnishing and lifestyle brand D&Department, an art gallery, a B1ock Lab that lets customers play with 3D printers and cutting machines, and a terrace café take up floors six to nine.
“We want to provide the younger generation of creatives a true retail experience. Even if they go away not buying a thing, they can still leave feeling content,” says B1ock cofounder Alessio Liu.
To cater to the taste of the local audience, the store features popular designer brands such as Maison Margiela, Marni, Thom Browne, Marc Le Bihan, Guidi, Rick Owens and Walter Van Beirendonck. A host of Chinese designers are also prominently featured in the store, but businesswise, they are sold on a concession basis.
Hidden in the basement of the building, which Gates named “Home Pleasure,” are curiosities small and big such as Japanese “washi” papers and JNBY deadstock fabrics. Liu says these items have become popular among local creatives and art students studying at the prestigious China Academy of Art in downtown Hangzhou.
7. Banmen, Shenzhen
Launched by Shenzhen streetwear brand Roaringwild‘s founder Yang Cao in 2019, Banmen is one of the rare menswear-focused designer shops in China’s tech hub.
The store aims to explore Cao’s interest in urban fashion outside the streetwear brand that he created 12 years ago. “We intentionally pick less fashion-forward brands and brands with an urban bent,” Cao explains. “The Shenzhen menswear market is still small. It probably makes up only 10 percent of the city’s multibrand retail market, so overall awareness is still low. But we’re not in a rush to grow.”
For Cao, taking time to grow means searching for brands that fit the Banmen point of view at a mass market-friendly price point. “We want to find brands that our male audience base can easily understand. That’s more important than finding new brands,” observes Cao. The brand mix includes Attempt, Corner Stone, Feng Chen Wang, And Wander and A-Cold-Wall.
Cao admits that the Canadian menswear retailer Haven has inspired Banmen to take a more editorial approach to its curation strategy. “Other than providing a space that holds clothes, we wanted to create more visual content to fill up our customer’s headspace,” Cao says.
To help the local audience better understand the Banmen story, Cao creates stylized look books with Roaringwild’s in-house production team featuring Banmen brands each season.