In light of our current theme, exploring the multi-sided art of curating, Glamcult caught up with Stavros Karelis of the iconic London store MACHINE-A. Having shaped a unique physical and online presence, the store founder and director yet always stays true to his highest goal: elevating young talent. “We cannot all be designers; there are enough brilliant graduates out there that can design their own collections. I prefer to support them.”
How and why was MACHINE-A founded?
When I founded MACHINE-A, I wanted to create a space that would showcase emerging designers such as ALYX, Craig Green, and Liam Hodges, that were speaking directly to youth culture, and place them alongside the high-end brands—Raf Simons, Chalayan, Margiela—that have shaped fashion over the past decade. We were not afraid to buy the most unique items of a collection, setting us apart as one of the stores to visit and to check for what’s new.
Could you elaborate on the selection process behind this?
Well, firstly we are lucky enough to live in a city with some of the best universities in fashion design, worldwide, such as Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art. The vast amount of creative minds that graduate each year offers a great selection for anyone who wants to get involved with emerging designers. London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Council have built amazing structures and relationships with great industry insiders to support emerging talent and to offer them everything they need to launch a brand.
When it comes down to why I pick specific graduates or young designers to work with, it has to do a lot with talent. And how unique they are, if they want to start their own brand, their work ethic and their understanding of the business side of things. Of course, I am not expecting them to have all the answers or have already figured out everything, as this takes years to achieve. Rather, I consider whether or not they are able to move in the right direction and if they are open to advice. For me, these relationships are very personal, and if I choose to support someone I will go above and beyond to support them as much as I can.
It’s also about instinct. The graduate collections of Grace Wales Bonner, Kiko Kostadinov (CSM) and Kanghyuk (RCA) all had something in common—a creative world that was so specific. The casting, the music, the attitude and the garments invited you into a very unique world: their world and their vision. It was fresh and different.
You’ve collaborated with SHOWstudio to create a very distinct online store. Why do you think this has been so successsful?
I consider myself extremely lucky and grateful to have SHOWstudio as a partner. Our relationship with Nick Knight is much more than just partners or collaborators. There is a genuine love, respect and admiration. We both feel extremely passionate about discovering and supporting young creative minds and designers. Apart from being an icon and a pioneer of fashion film and photography, Nick is someone that has a great eye for discovering creatives who do amazing things in fashion.
When Nick saw what we were doing at MACHINE-A, he felt very strongly about it and he offered his support. As a result, we’ve created an online store that reflects the relationship we have. The online store, similarly to the retail space, showcases and sells all these amazing emerging designers and high-end brands. Offering very specific selections and merchandising as well as creative content produced by SHOWstudio. The unique opportunity for a graduate to have Nick shoot their garments, places them directly on the international map. He is a great mind, a brilliant photographer and someone who uses this power to support young talent.
With that said, do you think the need for a physical store is still as important?
It’s extremely important! In my opinion, you cannot consider one without the other. Shopping is an experience and customers want to be able to see you, to try the clothes on, get to know you and the brands you sell. As much as an online store will try to incorporate this experience through providing different online services, it cannot fully achieve a similar experience to that of a customer visiting the physical store. Our customers know us, they see us on the shop floor, we discuss new brands, new designers, and opinions on shows. We build and respect these relationships and create a community around us.
We are currently in a time where it seems that no collaboration is out of bounds—what are your thoughts on this? Do you have any plans to put MACHINE-A’s name to a fashion collection?
I think collaborations are simply a marketing tool and a great commercial asset that will help grow and expand your customer basis and customer relationships. However, I prefer to see designers doing their own thing, staying pure to who they are, instead of trying to grow their customer base through collaborations. This seems to be the easy way and I think customers are starting to read through and ignore it. In the past, collaborating meant creating something unique and limited. Now there’s no limit to it. I’ve learnt to never say never. But, we’re not planning to put the MACHINE-A brand on a fashion collection. Retailers should be retailers and invest into brands that they believe can do well. We cannot all be designers. There are enough brilliant graduates out there designing their own collections. I prefer to support them.
You recently had an exhibition showing an archive of Barbie’s Ken dolls to celebrate the release of their diverse range. Could you tell us more about this?
In celebrating of the launch of the new range of Ken dolls, which include different ethnicities and body shapes, Mattel asked me to curate an exhibition surrounding the most iconic Ken dolls and collaborate with a designer on this. I liked this project a lot because it’s all about celebrating diversity. When going through Mattel’s archives, I was surprised to see that they have created Ken dolls of different ethnicities since the early 70s. Like so many other people, this was something I was previously unaware of.
I called one of my most favourite people and designers, Martine Rose, and asked her if she wanted to create a t-shirt to celebrate this project. It was such a different experience to what I normally do, but something I learnt a lot from and for which I got to interact with a unique range of people. It really was a great experience.
You work closely with the British Fashion Council’s New Gen designer support scheme. What would be your most important piece of advice for a young designer?
Stay focused, work hard and stay humble. Wait until it’s the right time for you. Always respect people and never speak badly of anyone, as this industry is very small. Create relationships that last. Do your own thing. Listen to advice from people you respect.
What does the future hold for MACHINE-A?
To keep doing what we are doing as an independent store, to stay true to our vision, to hopefully work with the many people I admire and respect, and to keep our customers happy while supporting and finding more ways and resources to showcase emerging designers and young talent. And last of all, to keep being creative and proud of what we do.