Call it the anti-flagship. Dover Street Market is the latest retail venture by Comme des Garcons founder and designer Rei Kawakubo – and it turns the notion of the luxury fashion emporium on its head.
Located in a Georgian-fronted building in Mayfair, London, the project is inspired by Kawakubo’s memories of the legendary Kensington Market (which closed early last year), a scruffy, rambling indoor fashion bazaar that showcased young designers and launched the careers of stars such as Alexander McQueen.
“The first place we go when travelling is the local market,” says Comme des Garcons commercial director Adrian Joffe, who is married to Kawakubo. “Rei remembers Kensington Market. What she liked most was the anarchy of the place.”
The raw shell of the interior of the Dover Street Market store is given over to retail and studio space for designers selected by Kawakubo and Joffe.
“We just took the shell from the contractors,” explains the fashion label’s spokesperson, Annika McVeigh. “We haven’t worked with an architect, we worked with set designers. There were no rules – except that accidents are OK.”
The Dover Street Market is a departure from Kawakubo’s other retail adventures – especially the flagship Comme des Garcons stores in New York (by Future Systems) and Paris (by Kitchen Rogers Design), two of the most beautiful architect-designed retail units anywhere.
But it’s different too from her recent string of “guerrilla” stores that have opened in such diverse spots as Berlin, Singapore and Ljubljana, Slovenia. These open for just a year at a time in un-refurbished retail units in unfashionable parts of town.
At Dover Street, Kawakubo and Joffe have taken a building in a prime location (Dover Street is a stone’s throw from the Guccis and Pradas of Old Bond Street) and
Joffe says they spent £800,000 to renovate the space and hope to have a first-year turnover of £5 million, which would enable them to turn a small profit. Compare that to the £60 million Prada spent on its Herzog & de Meuron-designed Tokyo outlet and the financial logic of the venture appears clear.
Besides showcasing the various Comme des Garcons ranges, Kawakubo and Joffe have given over about half the building to other brands, mostly run by friends, and including several that had never before been sold outside Japan. The company acts like a mall operator, taking a percentage of sales from each stall to cover the costs of the 15-year lease.
“We chose people because they have a point of view,” says Joffe. “They don’t all have our point of view, but they all have something to say.”
The stalls include a vintage shop by Cameron Silver of Decades in LA, the Lanvin collection by Alber Elbaz, east London hipsters Boudicca, photographer Bruce Weber and jewellery designer Judy Blame. Young London design outfit Amplifier also has a stall.