Experience comes first in China: Maison Margiela’s latest concept café-retail destination

What Happened: Conceptual stores are back on the menu for Maison Margiela. On August 23, the French luxury fashion house opened its inaugural shopping location in China’s Hunan province, in Changsha’s IFS International Financial Center, complete with the fifth Margiela café launched since the maison’s Chengdu-based coffee house debuted in June last year.

The store is an amalgamation of Margiela’s distinctly cool design codes. Curated by Dutch architecture studio Anne Holtrop, the brains behind multiple of the house’s boutique interiors, the space blends pillowy couches with sleek wood veneers, alongside the hallmark Margiela bottle lamp installation.  

The location showcases the latest co-ed AW ‘23 collection to arrive from the brand, including men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, handbags, shoes, accessories, and its iconic fragrance line.

Maison Margiela opened its latest concept café destination in Hunan this month. Photo: Weibo

The Jing Take: While the Margiela label remains a niche, if-you-know-you-know brand for the rest of the world, its status across China is omnipresent. On the mainland, it now boasts stores in Shanghai, Chengdu, and Beijing, as well as its latest in Hunan.

But these locations are more than just outlets. Following the opening of its inaugural café in Chengdu last year, the brand has forged ahead with transforming its physical retail spaces into experiential concept hubs designed to draw in China’s fashion-conscious crowd. 

Subsequently, Margiela cafés across China have become an Internet sensation. On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag #margielacafe has amassed over 3.4 million views alone, as netizens inundate the social platform with snapshots of the venue.

Among the physical retail bounce back, consumers have been craving more immersive destinations that engulf them in a brand’s signature aesthetic. For Margiela, this materialized as tapping into China’s booming coffee market to capture the attention of wider audiences, plus its younger luxury spenders. 

The Maison Margiela café has become a key driver in the brand’s China marketing playbook. Photo: Xiaohongshu

These activations have become a key chapter in Margiela’s brand playbook. In 2020, the maison teamed up with homegrown coffee chain Seesaw Coffee on a collaborative pop-up showcase in Shanghai to celebrate its Replica perfume.

Globally, the phenomenon of merging trending lifestyle crazes – like China’s guochao caffeine fever – with buzzy luxury labels is a surefire way to generate social currency and cultural relevance. In Margiela’s case, it’s also a way to encourage shoppers to utilize its new concept space as a hangout destination, rather than a fleeting drop-in venue.

As more brands across the globe adopt the café-plus-retail space formula, including the Prada café in London’s Harrods and Miami Design District’s Dior café, these shareable experiences are key to brands’ survival as they grapple with shifting consumer expectations. 

Whether it’s branded hotels, Instagrammable coffee-fixes or collaborative residences, in today’s fashion sphere, the clothes come second. It’s the aspirational lifestyles that these luxury labels can offer that consumers want most.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.