Marine Serre

Despite Store Closures, Niche Brands Can Still Make It Big in China

Despite Store Closures, Niche Brands Can Still Make It Big in China

SHANGHAI — Off-White is the latest international fashion brand to scale back its China operations after the country’s key cities went through months-long COVID-19 lockdowns.According to local media reports, the label founded by the late Virgil Abloh recently shut down four stores in Shanghai, Chengdu and Xi’an.
The brand still operates seven stores in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Shenyang and Chengdu.
The store inside Shanghai’s upscale Réel Mall has been replaced with Totême, WWD observed on Tuesday. The only store that remains open in Shanghai is located in Galeries Lafayette Shanghai, which is operated by I.T, the same local retail partner as Off-White.
Both Off-White and I.T did not respond immediately to WWD’s requests for comment.

Industry experts believe the brand remains popular in second- and third-tier cities, but as its China franchise operator I.T goes through a retail reorganization post-lockdown, Off-White’s retail future remains up in the air.

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When Off-White entered the market in 2017, the pop-culture association quickly ignited the interest of young hypebeasts.
The brand expanded to 16 stores by the end of 2020. Its marketing initiatives included a focus on exclusive and limited product offerings in China. But at the time, local media outlets discovered that Off-White-related content is highly associated with keywords like “discount” on Xiaohongshu, the popular social-commerce app.
According to local retail insiders, despite quickly expanding its retail network, the brand fell short on localized branding and content creation.
“Shoppers didn’t truly get the vibe of Off-White to begin with, and in China, the cost of forgetting is extremely low,” said a fashion buyer of a well-known retail operator in Shanghai.

Backstage at Trussardi RTW Fall 2022

Daniele Mango/WWD

But Off-White isn’t alone. Italian luxury label Trussardi also decided to suspend direct operations in China recently. The brand is in the process of closing one directly operated store but retains its franchise and wholesale business in China.
“The strategy has evolved in light of the changing context in the market,” Sebastian Suhl, the brand’s chief executive officer, told WWD at the time.
“The pandemic impacted the whole retail landscape for brands in every segment. That’s the negative side of the story,” said real estate operator URF’s chairman and founder Dickson Szeto.
“But on the other hand, we see brands with a positive attitude that have taken branding and storytelling to the next level. That’s why we also see companies like OTB doubling down on the market. They can capture the opportunities presented by clients who couldn’t travel abroad to shop,” added Szeto.

A look from Nanushka for resort 2023.


Samuel Ross’ fashion venture A-Cold-Wall, Sequoia Capital China-backed South Korean fashion brand We11done, as well as Alexandre Mattiussi’s Ami, British handbag brand By Far, Polish underground club kid favorite Misbhv, and Hungarian label Nanushka under Vanguard Group are some entrants gearing up for brick-and-mortar store launches in the Chinese market this year.
Meanwhile, Holzweiler, the Scandinavian brand recently backed by Sequoia Capital China, plans to open a Tmall store this fall, according to market sources.

Angelica Cheung, venture partner at the firm and founding editor of Vogue China, who just relocated from Beijing to Hong Kong with her family, believes Holzweiler has “a huge opportunity to expand to other parts of the world, especially at a time when audiences value nature, the outdoors, and human connection more than ever before.”

Suzanne, Andreas and Maria Skappel Holzweiler.

Courtesy of Holzweiler

In a post-lockdown China, shifts in consumer attitudes have created space for new players that can fulfill shoppers’ changing style needs.
“Consumer’s emotions are increasingly complex and volatile after the pandemic, leading to more eclectic aesthetic needs,” said Xueying Sun, WGSN China’s senior editor. “We see a return to classics and practicality, and at the same time a call for extremely trendy and artistic designs.”
Sun thinks niche brands need to produce products with “flexible design elements with traffic driving features.”
Szeto said brands “can’t ‘lie flat,’ but must aggressively maintain a positive online attitude, or online storytelling approach.”
For Shanghai-based Julio Ng, executive director of the fashion showroom Seiya Nakamura 2.24, which represents more than 40 brands including Rick Owens, Christopher Kane, Dion Lee, Ganni, Marine Serre, Peter Do, Stefan Cooke and Tomo Koizumi, niche brands must also constantly reinvent their hero products to keep the surprise alive.
“Consumers in China right now have the money to spend. The best way to improve and experience fashion is to spend the money to buy it, wear it and try it,” said Ng.
“But once it’s been worn, its photo has been taken or posted on social media, the value of the pieces decreases. So designers have to reinvent their so-called signature pieces constantly. That’s the most important part,” he added.

Eli Russell Linnetz of ERL.

Dominique MAITRE/WWD

To maintain momentum, Ng thinks brands need to pick up the pace with fresh product releases.
“When the market is saturated, and a brand has not been able to reinvent those bestselling styles, it very often leads to a decline in wholesale. And once that happens, it basically just collapsed everywhere,” said Ng.
Both Szeto and Ng suggest young niche brands take on “short-term activities” such as pop-ups or brand-related in-store activities to make some noise in the market when it reaches peak influence.

For example, the Shanghai-based concept store ENG plans to launch a pop-up for Eli Russell Linnetz’s namesake label ERL this September, while Marine Serre is looking into similar activations in the market.
“But we realized that an installation at a store is not enough. What’s more important is how these installation or community programs tie back to the brand and each of the retailers, VIP customers, or followers,” said Ng.
Initial brand building means maintaining a healthy relationship with seed customers, which includes local celebrities, influencers and VIPs, who will become an asset for niche players to help with organic growth.

Marine Serre, spring 2023

Courtesy of Primexposureimage/Ma

“The brands need to make these people feel like they are a part of the brand family, they are cared for, this is also an important attitude to communicate,” said Szeto.
When the brand sees enough traffic on social media and e-commerce sites like Tmall, there’s a window of time to establish a permanent retail presence in the market.
“Normally, I would say if you reach 1 million euros in wholesale orders in China alone, you can consider finding a Taobao Partner company to set up a Tmall International or Tmall Local online store,” said Ng.
“But if you don’t reach that amount, I would say don’t even think about it, because even though if you set it up, you know you end up spending a lot of money for digital and offline marketing. And you might not even see any sort of payoff,” he added.

Marine Serre RTW Fall 2022

Marine Serre RTW Fall 2022

For her first runway show since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Marine Serre took over the Lafayette Anticipations contemporary art foundation with a temporary display that explains how she produces her “regenerated” garments.
At a series of work stations, bundles of vintage clothes are sorted, cut and sewn into her signature designs, some of which are available for sale in a pop-up store at the venue, which recently hosted the first art exhibition by Belgian designer Martin Margiela, the original master of salvage. 

The “Hard Drive” exhibition, open for free to the public for two days, takes visitors through atmospheric sets decked out with reclaimed furniture, and ends with a section featuring hacked reproductions of Old Masters’ paintings. Think “Girl with a Crescent Moon Print Headscarf,” instead of “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

“I thought it was important to focus on the clothing itself. What is it? How is it made? How is it sewn? What is the process?” Serre explained in a preview. “Being able to show it in a museum shines a spotlight on the craftsmanship behind fashion.”

It also helps to explain the price tags of the clothes. Though Serre has worked hard to bring down the cost of her garments, a T-shirt produced on site in a limited-edition run will retail for 390 euros, while a pair of jeans in her signature crescent print costs 890 euros. Visitors can also refresh their favorite pieces of clothing with the house’s distinctive logo.
The designer is expanding her accessories line, with the launch of a pillar handbag that combines a base structure made of deadstock leather with upcycled materials that will change every season. She’s also introducing a shoe with a sculpted heel that leaves behind a crescent moon footprint. 
The show started Dutch-Iranian music artist Sevdaliza calling for a minute of silence in solidarity with “the victims of injustice and war.” For her coed fall collection, Serre channeled punk and raver influences with items like coats spliced together from tartan scarves and houndstooth wool; a sweeping gown and cape pieced together from grunge T-shirts; and a Gothic tattoo-print bodysuit. 
She drove home the individuality of the looks with a genuinely diverse cast: models of different ages, races and body types, some with colorful spiked hair and makeup that nodded to punk idol Jordan Mooney. There was a rich range of outerwear, ranging from a cocoon-like hoodie made from Provençal quilted fabric, known as boutis, to allover looks in a patchwork camouflage print.
Meanwhile, dévoré velvet gowns that covered the face, and were accessorized with dripping silver chain headdresses, combined romanticism with edge. “I think all these undercurrents represent a form of rebellion,” Serre explained. “We lack imagination today, and imagination is what can save us from depression.”
A portion of proceeds from the pop-up will be donated to Doctors Without Borders to support its efforts in Ukraine. Despite the relentless diet of bad news, Serre wants to believe in a better world. “We have to keep fighting for freedom, even more so today,” she said.

15 Sustainable Fashion Buys for Summer

15 Sustainable Fashion Buys for Summer

As fashion’s focus continues to shift in favor of sustainability and ethical design practices, the challenge for buyers is becoming clear: What even is sustainable fashion? How do we know if pieces marketed as ‘sustainable’ are really kinder for the environment? What are the main benefits of buying from sustainable brands?
Upcycling old garments (look to Levi’s denim) and repurposing fabrics are just two ways brands can save on waste, water usage and their impact on the environment. Reformation began by selling vintage clothing out of a small Los Angeles storefront in 2009 – now the label creates its own designs and is 100% carbon neutral. To prove its commitment to the cause, they introduced RefScale, an internal lifecycle tool that can track the environmental impact that any of their creations has on the environment. Want to know how much CO2, water and waste you’ve saved by shopping a specific piece? They can tell you.
The real trailblazer in the quest for a sustainable fashion industry (well, at least as sustainable as possible while still being able to exist), is of course, Stella McCartney. Her aim? A wholesale change of operations; a new approach that will transform a linear economy – produce, consume, dispose – into a circular one which regenerates itself in diverse, non-damaging ways. Young designers like Marine Serre and Matty Bovan are already experimenting with upcycled, DIY creations but a veritable fashion system revolution would require vast monetary and planning investments from enlightened governments. McCartney is convinced it can be done if the design fuels desire.
We may not know what this summer holds for us but if a vacation is on the cards and you’re looking for one or two buys to spruce up a capsule of longtime favorites, then why not make them sustainable? We’ve rounded up 15 chic summer-ready pieces – from denim shorts to chic beach bags – by brands that live and breathe sustainability…
Read Next: 5 Middle Eastern Icons That Could Be Immortalized in Wax at Dubai’s New Madame Tussauds

ANDAM Sweetens Prize Pot to 300,000 Euros

ANDAM Sweetens Prize Pot to 300,000 Euros

Recognizing the onerous investments required for young designers to compete today, French fashion prize ANDAM has increased the amount of its grand prize to 300,000 euros as it opens its 2021 edition. Previously, the top award was valued at 250,000 euros.
Nathalie Dufour, executive director of ANDAM, cited a will to make the prize more enticing to international contenders, and noted the shift to digital presentations, showrooms and communications, plus costs related to sustainable production, have created a new set of expenses — not forgetting the impact of the pandemic on business in general.
“It’s very difficult for young brands,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.
Candidates for the grand prize can be of any nationality, but must own a French company or set one up during the same year as the receipt of the fellowship. (Applicants must also have shipped at least two seasonal collections internationally and have registered a minimum turnover of 300,000 euros in 2020.)

The prestigious award also comes with a year of mentoring on creative and business matters from this year’s jury president, Cédric Charbit, chief executive officer of Balenciaga.
“With all the jury members, we will have the great responsibility of identifying and supporting leading talents of the future, from everywhere, and helping them develop their brand,” Charbit said.

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He and ANDAM president Guillaume Houzé, who oversees communications for Galeries Lafayette Group and is president of the Galeries Lafayette foundation, are to reveal this year’s jury at a later date.
Also on Wednesday, ANDAM revealed the mentors for its other three prizes.
Sophie Delafontaine, artistic director at Longchamp, is to mentor the winner of the Pierre Bergé Prize, which focuses on young French companies and is worth 100,000 euros; Giovanna Engelbert, Swarovski’s creative director, the winner of the Fashion Accessories Prize, which comes with a sum of 50,000 euros, and Yann Gozlan, founder and president of Creative Valley, the Innovation Prize, also valued at 50,000 euros.
Candidates are invited to apply until April 27. Finalists are to be revealed at the end of May with the jury gathering on July 1 to select the 2021 winners.
Created in 1989 by Dufour with the support of the French government and with the late Pierre Bergé as president, ANDAM — the French acronym for National Association of the Development of the Fashion Arts — has been a springboard for designers who would go on to achieve international recognition.
Past winners include Martin Margiela, Viktor & Rolf, Christophe Lemaire, Anthony Vaccarello and Jeremy Scott.
For its 2020 edition, which unfurled amid the early days of the coronavirus crisis, ANDAM pivoted to a “family fund award” focused on former winners and finalists, ultimately granting 200,000 euros to Marine Serre and 150,000 euros to Glenn Martens’ Y/Project.
Dufour recalled that the first editions of the prize offered a symbolic amount, roughly 7,500 euros, when it was tilted more to “cultural recognition.”
The level of support has vastly increased because of the arrival of large corporate sponsors, which now include Balenciaga, Chanel, Chloé, Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Galeries Lafayette, Google, Hermès, Kering, Lacoste, Longchamp, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, L’Oréal Paris, OTB, Premiere Classe, Saint Laurent, Swarovski and Tomorrow.

The ANDAM receives about 400 submissions for its four key prizes, Dufour noted.

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