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Is facial recognition the stuff of sci-fi? Not in China

From toilet-paper dispensers to fast-food restaurants, travel, beauty and crime-fighting, China is taking the lead in rolling out facial-recognition technology. But while advocates warn it makes life easier, quicker and safer, opponents counter that it is another example of how the Chinese government keeps a sinister and increasingly close eye on its 1.4 billion people.

Shanghai and other Chinese cities have recently started deploying facial recognition to catch those who flout the rules of the road. Jaywalkers at some Shanghai intersections have their images flashed up on a nearby screen for public shaming and must pay a fine of 20 yuan (3 US dollars) to have it removed. And people at the crossing hardly blinked.

Communist-ruled China is already one of world's most heavily monitored societies, with estimates of more than 176 million surveillance cameras in operation. "I can accept it. The offenders are captured after all in public and I think it's a way to enforce the law," said 42-year-old hospital worker Wu, who give only her surname.

"However, I believe there are some people whose photos are displayed publicly who may express their concerns about this, saying their privacy was violated and worrying about their private information being misused." Police say facial recognition is making the country safer.

It has been used to snare criminals who attempt to evade justice by giving false names, and in one recent case in Qingdao, home to China's best-known lager, 25 suspects were arrested when they turned up to a beer festival only to be identified by the technology at the entry gates.

Smile to pay

All Chinese over 16 must hold an ID card with their picture and address, meaning authorities have a vast trove of information. Experts say China is racing ahead of Western countries in deploying facial scanners owing to its comparatively lax privacy laws and because Chinese are used to having their pictures, finger prints and other personal details taken.

Park managers at Beijing's Temple of Heaven went so far as to install facial recognition devices at lavatories in the imperial-era landmark earlier this year to catch toilet-paper thieves. If someone returns too soon for more toilet paper they are met with a polite rejection by a machine that recognises them and advises: "Please try again later."

Beijing Normal University installed facial scanners to make sure only students enter dormitory buildings and "help us better monitor the students' whereabouts", the state Xinhua news agency quoted a university official as saying.

Banks are beginning to use facial recognition instead of cards at cash machines while the travel and leisure industry also sees opportunities -- China Southern Airlines this year began doing away with boarding passes in favour of the scheme.

The operator of KFC in China has introduced a "Smile to Pay" system allowing customers at a KFC spin-off to pay via a face-recognition system linked to Alipay, the ubiquitous online-payment arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Back in Shanghai, a government initiative uses facial recognition to help identify people on the streets -- primarily the elderly and mentally ill -- and reunite them with loved ones.

'Ask Jack Ma'

The push is just one part of a broader high-tech strategy. The government in July announced plans to become the world leader in artificial-intelligence by 2030 and build a domestic AI industry worth 150 billion US dollars.

Yue Lin, a law professor at Shanghai University, says the trend is being driven primarily by Chinese technology companies such as Alibaba and Baidu. "The commercial development of facial recognition will not stop. How will the government use this technology in the future? Maybe we should ask Jack Ma," said Yue, referring to Alibaba's billionaire founder.

"The way companies work has changed the way government works." Yue says there are justifiable concerns about misuse of citizens' pictures and information but cautioned it was too early to tell what the full repercussions will be.

"The police's authority or jurisdiction has not changed, but definitely its power has been enhanced," he said. "This is not unique to China, the same thing happens all over the world. Maybe it is a good thing to Chinese people, but a terrible thing to Americans." (AFP)

Photo: Screenshot Alipay website

Marc Jacobs launches first online flagship in China

American fashion label Marc Jacobs has launched its only authorised online flagship store in China on Vip.com, the luxury channel dedicated to international luxury and premium brands.

The move marks Marc Jacobs first official e-commerce presence in China and will see it launching its autumn/winter 2017 collection to Vip.com’s 300 million members. In addition, the Marc Jacobs flagship will also show shoppers how to put together an ensemble that reflects the popular New York style.

In 2008, Vip.com launched its first foray into the luxury brands e-commerce field with its market-endorsed platform, VIPLUX channel, which offers high-end shopping experiences.

Since launching it has entered into strategic collaborations with more than 200 leading international fashion luxury brands, including Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Sergio Rossi, Trussardi and Diesel. These brands have all opened flagship stores on VIPLUX, backed by a 100 percent guarantee in the authenticity of the products sold.

Vip.com’s co-founder, Arthur Hong, said: "The cooperation between VIPLUX and Marc Jacobs is a testament to VIPLUX's expertise in understanding how to "become one" with the spirit of the specific brand, and to match that with market growth.

"Developing a solid level of expertise in luxury products is a winning formula for VIPLUX."

Image: courtesy of Marc Jacobs

Arket opens first German store

Swedish fashion group H&M proved it is not superstituous by opening the first store of its new lifestyle brand Arket at Weinstraße 6 in Munich on Friday, 13th October 2017. The first 100 visitors received a gift.

The new German flagship store extends over four floors and a total sales area of 1,000 square meters. It offers women's, men's and children's wear, as well as household items and articles from other brands, such as Nike, Veja and Adidas, which fit the Arket concept. Unlike the H&M brand, the Arket range does not change every few weeks, but can also go beyond one season. The new store in Munich is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm and closed on Sundays.

Arket opens first German store

As in the other Arket stores, the interior is minimalistic: The brand believes in shelves and clothes racks in neutral gray and white tones rather than mannequins or colourful displays. Products are neatly stacked and sorted by colour, as is the search in the new webshop, which also offers searches by pattern or material. Somehow, one is reminded of a fashion archive rather than a store.

Arket opens first German store

"Arket is a modern day market that focuses on: simple, timeless and functional designs; aiming to democratise quality via widely accessible, well-made products designed to be worn and adored for a long time. Their offering includes essential products for men, women, children and the home," commented H&M about its new brand at the beginning of August.

Arket opens first German store

Those who may need to recover from this shock may do so at the in-house café; a combination of fashion and food that is new. Here, customers can refresh and recharge themselves inbetween shopping. But those expecting fast food are in for another shock: The café is based on the new Nordic cuisine and promises high-quality ingredients and a healthy lifestyle. Thus, the menu includes goat's cheese and avocado sandwiches, flatbreads, salads, but also yoghurt desserts, cookies, coffee and tea.

Arket opens first German store

H&M is not only distancing itself from the fast-paced culture with its new brand when it comes to food but also in fashion as the Swedish clothing company is moving away from the fast fashion concept with Arket. This is already apparent from the outside: Instead of the widely visible red lettering, Arket is written rather modestly in quite small, black, uppercase letters. But the new location on Weinstraße 6 near the Frauenkirche is within walking distance of the main, five-storey H&M store towards Odeonsplatz or Cos in the direction of Marienplatz, which stretches over three floors.

Arket opens first German store

With the addition of its new Arket concept, H&M covers all bases when it comes to price: with H&M as a cost-effective fast fashion brand at the bottom and Cos as a luxury line for establishing one's classic, basic wardrobe at the top, and now Arket as a "modern marketplace" and supplier of the "ideal everyday uniform" in the mid price range with "high-quality and sustainable fashion".

Arket opens first German store

The worldwide first Arket flagshipstore opened on 25th August 2017 on London's Regent Street; further openings followed in September in Copenhagen's Kopmagergade 33, in Brussels on the Avenue de la Toison D'Or 15 and another store in Long Acre, London. A first store in the company's home market Sweden is yet to open on Biblioteksgatan in Stockholm. Since August 25, the Arket website including a webshop is also active, initially supplying 18 European markets.

Photos: Arket website & Arket Facebook page
Under Armour to open first EU flagship store in Amsterdam

Under Armour is set to open its first flagship store in Europe in the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam. The new store, which is set to span over 1,000 square meters, will be located at 16-18 Kalverstraat and will offer the brands complete product offering, including running, golf and football gear.

Although an exact opening date for the store has yet to be announced, the store is likely to open sometime near the end of the year. Under Armour, which also operates its European headquarters in the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, is currently present in a number of leading multi-brand stores in Europe but is eager to establish its own retail presence.

“The opening of our flagship store in Amsterdam marks a real milestone for Under Armour,” said Chris Bate, Managing Director Europe, Under Armour in a statement. "Not only is this store located in the same city as our European headquarters, the Brand House is also located in the busiest shopping area in the Netherlands, where it provides our customers with a superior shopping experience.”

Photo: Courtesy of Under Armour

Retailers prepare for a bumper shopping season with early discounting

London - Fashion retailers across the globe are preparing for a difficult holiday trading season. The rate of discounts has skyrocketed over the past few weeks, according to the latest data from Edited, as online retailers being cutting prices earlier than previous years.

The rate of discounts in September grew 2.8 percent in comparison to last year, according to the retail analytics company analysis of 75 leading apparel retailers which offer more than 27,500 apparel, accessory and footwear brands. However, this percentage has surged a whopping 32.6 percent in October year-on-year, as retailers are keen to boost holiday spending as much as they can, despite increasing pressure on consumers disposable income.

There were 13.5 percent fewer new arrivals in September 2017 in comparison to September 2016, as retailers sought to hold off on new product drops in favour of cutting prices on their current inventory to encourage shoppers. This amount has only grown in October to 24 percent fewer new arrivals in October 2017 year on year.

In addition, retailers were also found to be offering deeper discounts earlier this year. Although most online apparel retailers offer 20 percent to 30 percent off for initial discounts, 42 percent of initial discounts in September this year were at 40 percent or higher. Higher discounts were most noticeable in the accessories and jewellery category, in particular with brands such as Liz Claiborne and Kate Spade.

“The retail sector is already engaging in an aggressive discounting strategy with limited consumer spending,” commented Katie Smith, senior retail analyst at Edited. “However, as retailers are limiting new assortments at the same time, this means they are not overstocking inventory that could lead to even deeper price reductions. While holiday sales happen earlier each year, retailers must remember that it’s a three-month marathon, where making the right decisions is critical to avoid sacrificing margins.”

Leading fashion retailers such as Macy’s, Nordstrom Rack and Asos were all found to have made the highest number of price reductions since September this year, whereas Nike, Missguided and Adidas saw the highest number of full price sellouts during the same month, indicating that early discounting may not be the best way to achieve full price item sellouts.

Photo: Asos, website

JD.com launches new luxury e-commerce platform 'Toplife'

London - Chinese online giant, JD.com, has launched a new, luxury e-commerce platform 'Toplife' which aims to rival Alibaba's Luxury Pavilion.

JD.com new platform offers Chinese consumers access to a luxury-only channel, which is set to only offer full-price items from high-end global brands. Toplife offers premium international brands an exclusive platform to connect with affluent customers by offering them local online flagship stores which they can customize. The new platform is said to offer luxury brands a high-end system which seamlessly incorporates online stores, premium customer service, and delivery as well as marketing and branding expertise in China.

JD.com goes high-end with launch of Toplife

Premium brands which work with JD.com's new platform will be able to control every aspect of their online flagship store's appearance while tapping into a wide range of resources from JD.com. Leading premium brands which have already joined Toplife include La Perla, Emporio Armani, Rimowa (LVMH) and Trussardi. Additional brands are said to join over the next coming weeks, with a number of them launching their first online stores in China via Toplife.

"Our deep understanding of high-end consumers has enabled us to launch a luxury e-commerce ecosystem that provides a truly premium shopping experience, and helps partners tell their brand story to local consumers," said Richard Liu, Chairman, and CEO of JD.com. "Working with Toplife, luxury brands worldwide are now able to directly provide customers throughout China with a true luxury shopping experience previously only associated with high-end offline stores. Toplife aims to mirror the offline luxury shopping experience in a premium e-commerce experience."

Located in JD.com leading Asian fulfillment centre, Toplife facilities include dust-free sealed spaces, strict temperatures, and humidity controls as well as advanced security systems. As part of the overall luxury shopping experience offered by Toplife, users will have access to JD.com's self-operated nationwide logistics network, such as JD Luxury Express.

The launch of Toplife sees JD.com going head to head with Alibaba's recently launched Luxury Pavilion. The e-commerce platform has unveiled this August on Alibaba's TMall shopping platform and features luxury brands such as Burberry, Hugo Boss, and La Mer. The launch of Toplife also sees JD.com continuing to position itself as the leading portal for high-end brands around the world keen on entering China's e-commerce market.

Photo: JD Luxury Express, courtesy of JD.com

Jeff Abrams, founder of Rails, takes his brand global

VIDEO Amsterdam - Those in search of the perfect button-down plaid shirt need to look no further, as LA-based contemporary apparel brand Rails has your back. Chances are you have already spotted one of their famous shirts, or customised denim jackets, being worn by leading celebrities and social media influencers including Kate Moss, Olivia Palermo and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Now Rails founder, the charismatic Jeff Abrams has set his sights on expanding his brand across the globe and into new product categories.

Jeff Abrams, founder of Rails, takes his brand global

Jeff Abrams sets his sights on Rails global expansion

During a preview presentation of Rails women’s, men’s and children’s wear Spring/Summer 2018 collections in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, FashionUnited took a minute to sit and talk with Abrams to learn more about Rails new collection, his vision of Rails current market expansion and plans for the future.

Founded in 2008 by Abrams, who first launched a black hat and later a zip-up sweatshirt, the brand has grown a strong following over the years. “Matthew McConaughey was buying it, Jessica Alba was buying it, so I knew that I had stumbled onto something special with my hat and my hoodie,” said Abrams. Rails is best known for its buttery, soft button-down shirts which epitomise the brand’s relaxed Californian vibe, but over the years has expanded to offer more products with the aim of becoming a fully fledged lifestyle brand.

Jeff Abrams, founder of Rails, takes his brand global

“We’ve tried to infuse this concept of the really relaxed Californian-lifestyle into the entire collection, every category we do, whether it’s the shirting, denims, dresses - that is really the focus in each of our collections.” Rails SS ‘18 collection presentation in Amsterdam coincides with the brand’s official launch in the Netherlands, at premium department store de Bijenkorf. The move follows on Rails men’s wear debut in the UK this autumn, which launched exclusively at Harrods. Rails is currently available in 50 countries at 1265 retailers, including Harvey Nichols, Intermix, Selfridges and Saks Fifth Avenue, but Abrams is keen to continue building the brand’s presence overseas.

“It’s been a long and steady road and I think going around I really like to go to each [new] market and do what I did in the beginning of Rails - which is be very hands on and don’t sit back and say ‘oh we’ve made it’ because there are so many things that we could be doing as a brand.”

Stay tuned for FashionUnited's full interview with Jeff Abrams, which will published later this week

Photos & Video: By Blanca Heise, for FashionUnited

Mango opens first store in India

Spanish fashion retailer Mango has opened its first bricks-and-mortar store in India with Myntra, which was announced as the brand’s strategic partner in the region for its online business earlier this year.

The opening in Delhi at Select Citywalk Mall in the Saket district, is the first of 25 Mango store openings planned in India over the next five years. It will be followed up by a second store opening in Mumbai, at Phoenix Mall, next month, with a further three more openings expected before the end of 2017.

Mango executive vice president, Daniel López said: "This is the beginning of an expansion plan in India that will cover the next 5 years. We have an excellent relationship with Myntra and their expertise has allowed us to reach virtually every corner of India and increase our customer base exponentially as a result. Following an omni-channel strategy and having a presence in the country with physical stores will allow us to generate value for consumers by improving their shopping experience.”

Mango opens first store in India

The new store has been equipped with advanced technology to provide a seamless shopping experience for customers in India. All stores in the country will also feature integrated inventory and the concept of Endless Aisle, enabling customers to browse the Mango collection on a tablet, check out product details and availability, and have goods from other stores delivered to their doorstep. Customers will also be able to skip queues at billing counters, using the Assisted Checkout feature on tablets.

Ananth Narayanan, chief executive of Myntra and Jabong, added: "Helping launch the first Mango store in Delhi is a huge step in the direction of building a robust omni-channel presence for the brand. Mango has been growing at a 100 percent YoY rate on the platform and continues to enjoy great fashion appeal amongst shoppers in India. The new technology-packed store is set to redefine the way consumers in India experience brands in the future.”

Images: courtsey of Mango

Calvin Klein opens multi-brand stores in Shanghai & Düsseldorf

London - Calvin Klein has set its sights on global domination as the US brand has open ed two new multi-brand lifestyle stores in Shanghai, China and Düsseldorf, Germany. Each of the new stores is set to anchor the brand’s presence in the international cities as a flagship store and feature s the brand’s newest retail design concepts.

Calvin Klein opens multi-brand stores in Shanghai & Düsseldorf

In Shanghai, Calvin Klein has opened 6 ,000 square foot two-storey store at leisure centre Raffles City. The new flagship store offers the brand’s men’s and women’s CK Calvin; Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Underwear and Calvin Klein Performance apparel and accessories. Overseas in Düsseldorf, the new store is located on Königsallee Boulevard, spanning over 3,500 square feet across three floors. The store features men's and women’s Calvin Klein sportswear and accessories, Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Underwear as well as Calvin Klein Swimwear.

Calvin Klein opens multi-brand stores in Shanghai & Düsseldorf

“Our new flagship stores in Shanghai and Düsseldorf represent C a l vin Klein ’s commitment to strong consumer experience, technological innovation, and unmatched brand equity for our global audience,” said Steve Shiffman, Chief Executive Officer, Calvin Klein, Inc. “As we continue to focus on expanding Calvin Klein s global footprint, it is our objective to bring a best-in-class retail experience to key markets and shopping destinations around the world.”

Calvin Klein opens multi-brand stores in Shanghai & Düsseldorf

The new flagship store s also feature th eir own design concept which convey the brand’s minimal, modern aesthetic with a pop of colour and sumptuous materials, selected to enhance consumers shopping experience. Key details for the new stor e s interiors include cobalt blue curtains to frame the entrance, soft pink rugs in geometrical shapes and grey concrete throughout. In addition, the Kvadrat/Raf Simons fabric is used throughout the store s as well as Utrecht chairs by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld. Digital technology is also used throughout th e store s to offer consumers the opportunity to actively participate in a personalised shopping experience and engaged with the brand in new ways.

Calvin Klein opens multi-brand stores in Shanghai & Düsseldorf

Interactive video and denim fit guide walls let consumers browse products featured in Calvin Klein’s current campaigns and make selections to try on in-store. In the Shanghai store, an interactive video table lets shoppers explore the brand through newspapers, magazines and online articles on the brand and features key milestones, runway show videos and recent events on the brand as well as access to Calvin Klein’s official social media platforms.

Calvin Klein opens multi-brand stores in Shanghai & Düsseldorf

Photo Credit: Calvin Klein.

Additional image credits - Shanghai - © 2017 Andy Shen

Dusseldorf- © 2017 Huy Nguyen

Disney Unveils ShopDisney For E-commerce; Reveals Prototype Store

Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) Disney Consumer Products announced Tuesday the launch of shopDisney, a new e-commerce destination offering the best assortment of Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel products.

The company also revealed a new prototype Disney store design, which is being tested in select locations around the world bringing the magic of Disney to retail through innovative technology, storytelling and cast member interaction.

ShopDisney.com features co-branded products and elevated collaborations from brands such as Coach, Le Creuset, Spyder, Steiff, rag & bone and more. Along with this, authentic products from Disney Parks and Disney Store will also be featured. New and exclusive capsule collections from fashion-forward brands will regularly be introduced on the site's shop-in-shop "The IT List", launching with denim from SIWY featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Disney Princess and Villain nail wraps from NCLA. Disney stores around the world will also be incorporating more product for guests of all ages, beyond their traditionally child-centric assortment, the company said.

The new Disney store prototypes are now open in Century City, Calif. and Northridge, Calif. in the US as well as in Nagoya, Japan and Shanghai, China. Two more prototypes will open in 2017 in Miami, Fla. on September 28 and Munich, Germany later this year.(DPA)

Photo credit: Disney Style