Nestled between the neon lights of gay sex shops and massage parlours of Soho, Stavros Karelis’s boutique is home to cult names and new designers alike
Nestled among the neon lights of the gay sex shops and massage parlours of Soho’s Brewer Street, Machine-A has been standing strong for a decade.
Founded by Stavros Karelis in 2013, the humble fashion haven has become a go-to for those seeking out intrepid young designers and established names alike. From Maison Margiela, Comme des Garçons, and Raf Simons, to Bianca Saunders, Coperni, and Bad Binch TONGTONG, Karelis has stocked them all.
“Sometimes I can’t really believe it myself, that we’re still here and growing after ten years,” he admits, soon after toasting the store’s anniversary with a raucous, Adonis-fuelled party at landmark club Fabric during London Fashion Week. “I never imagined it in the beginning, I didn’t think that far ahead!”
With the original idea taking root in 2009, Karelis took up residence in a temporary space and spent the next couple of years forging relationships with fledgling designers and fine-tuning the future of what would come to be a permanent home. “[That first store] had great energy, but it wasn’t exactly what you’d call a retail space and it wasn’t very refined,” he says, “but it did give way to the birth of the actual Machine-A.”
Though it’s a little less rough around the edges these days, that original essence of experimentation remains. The store is stocked instinctively, with rails bursting with clothes by Craig Green, Kiko Kostadinov, A-COLD-WALL*, Ottolinger, and Martine Rose, menswear and womenswear congruously rubbing lapels – a straightforward concept, perhaps, but even in this era of supposed ‘gender-fluidity’, a rare and welcome shopping experience.
Showcasing graduate designers is also top of the agenda for Karelis, who often scoops up their collections right off the runway. Though there are a handful of indie boutiques that have joined Machine-A in the decade it’s been operating, stockists are still extremely limited. “How is it possible in a city like London, where there is such a vast amount of young talent, there was not a space to spotlight their work,” he asks.
Today, Machine-A has not only become a hub for upcoming labels to sell their wares, but a space Karelis gives over to get them on the fashion map. Going beyond the rail space he allocates them, he also offers up Machine-A itself for presentations and parties, and allows them carte-blanche when it comes to the windows. Walk by the store on any given day and you’re almost certain to spot an installation worthy of an Instagram story.
Now, Karelis closes the chapter on the past decade and looks ahead to the future, starting with a trip to Shanghai to visit the first Machine-A outpost, which opened last year. “It was something that I really wanted to do for a very long time, but making that step is huge,” he says, suggesting more global stores are on the agenda. “I’m a big believer in the physical space and creating a great synergy between London and Shanghai has made me want to see Machine-A in a few other key cities around the world. But I’m not thinking about an empire – I want to do it in an honest way that resonates and inspires.”
Here, four designers currently stocked at Machine-A London reflect on the invaluable support Karelis and the store has had on their businesses over the years.
“During my last year at RCA, Stavros came in a few times to view the students’ collections who were thinking of having a brand. I was really determined to have my own brand after graduation, so I stayed in contact. Then I was asked by 1 Granary to go to Copenhagen for its VOID project with Machine-A, and that’s when Stavros put in an order. It’s been six years now.
Machine-A was one of my first stockists and Stavros has been extremely helpful in terms of learning how to get on the market, the buyer exchange etc. It’s been so important and has helped me apply for competitions and get other opportunities, so it’s definitely a big stepping stone. He’s done that for many designers, not just me.
What has been great is seeing how Machine-A presented Bianca Saunders as being unisex, it made me see the brand with a new vision and helped to diversify my customer. It’s great getting feedback from the store because they’ve known me since the beginning. In fashion, you can lose yourself a bit, so it’s great to have people who understand you and your work.”
PAULA CANOVAS DEL VAS
“When I was a student on the MA course at Central Saint Martins, there was a special project with Nike and Stavros selected two students to take part in creating costumes for the ad campaign. I was so happy to be one of them, but I was also very broke and we had to start toiling and buying materials (to be reimbursed for later on). I didn’t dare say anything, but Stavros could tell so he very casually asked for my details and I got a wire to my account the same day so I could do the work. How incredible is that?
I’ve been stocked at Machine-A for six seasons now and from the very first season I was offered to create installations and shop windows which really helped push brand awareness. Stavros has become a mentor and friend who is very generous with his time and knowledge. He’s always reassured me and constantly introduces me to people I could collaborate with. Machine-A really fosters young designers and accompanies them through the [often very painful] first stages of growing a brand.”
“Machine-A has supported me from day zero. I met Stavros when I was studying at RCA and have been working with him ever since – I honestly don’t know where I’d be without him and his team’s continuous support. I even showcased my AW18 collection at the store; I put all the boys in specially designed wooden shipping boxes complete with silk paper as if the garments were ready to ship.
The Machine-A crowd is very clear and defined to me. We have both built a community of contributors and clients that feed into our work, which keeps it evolving and creates an energy that constantly feels new.
I’ve been stocked for six years and Machine-A has been there through thick and thin. It’s so important to have key stockists that really believe in you and help you to grow and prosper. The community Stavros helps create with designers and customers is so, so, so important. If we didn’t have independent shops like Machine-A that offer a different perspective, we would only have Amazon-type stores!”
“Stavros was the judge for the L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award when I was in my final year on Central Saint Martins’ MA course and I first met him to chat about my final collection. In 2019, Machine-A became my first stockist and has been so supportive in encouraging me and giving me advice about sales and running a brand as a young designer. Machine-A is a great platform to show people my world and that garments that don’t look commercial can actually sell – it really means a lot to young designers like me. Having Machine-A as a stockist and having my collection bought really made me believe in my identity, so having stores like this supporting young designers is really important – there’s nobody else we can ask for help!”