I’ve been to take a look at Dover Street Market, Rei Kawakubo’s six-storey ‘anti-flagship’ store in Mayfair. It was my first visit, though I remember the fuss when she opened it in 2004. It was inspired by Kensington Market, a scruffy, rambling indoor fashion bazaar of young designers, which had closed the year before. A scruffy Mayfair fashion warehouse? Showing other designers as well as Kawakubo’s own ranges? Ridiculous, they said. But they were wrong.
Kawakubo has never been your average fashion designer. For one thing, she’s never trained in design – she studied Fine Arts and Literature at Keio University. And her style is unique, almost anti-fashion; stern, uncompromising, austere, with frayed edges and asymmetrical shapes. The 1981 debut Paris fashion show of her label Comme des Garçons, with its entirely monochrome collection, was derided as ‘Hiroshima chic’. Kawakubo was unmoved. ‘Comme des Garçons is a gift to oneself, not something to appeal or attract the opposite sex,’ she told Vogue in 1995.
But back to the shop. Kawakubo didn’t so much re-style the building as de-style it, leaving the raw shell of the interior just as it was when the contractors left. In it she stages ever-changing displays with a series of art installations to rival the clothes. Twice a year they have a tachiagari, where the store shuts down entirely for three days and then re-opens with the new season’s collections and a new interior. I arrived just as the latest tachiagari for Spring/Summer 2013 had been installed.
And it’s a sight to see, starting with the entrance where Window by Simone Rocha features a reproduction of the lane behind her childhood home in Ireland.
Beyond that and in the basement are the start of the extensive menswear collections with designs by Kawakubo’s protégée, Junya Watanabe. The changing room (shown at the top of this post) is a reconfigured portable toilet. The sneaker collection is housed in an installation by Graham Hudson called Open System which incorporates the Sneaker Space and Idea Books.
As you move up through the floors you find each collection carefully hung in its own space,with every garment precisely positioned. Designers on the first floor include Azzedine Alaïa, Ann Demeulemeester and the new CDG Beatles collection of bags, totes, tees and button downs, all printed with the green apple symbol of The Beatles’ Apple Corps.
The second floor is home to a host of designers, including Celine, Martin Margiela, Paul Harnden Shoemakers and the striking World Archive.
Up on the third floor Simone Rocha, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen Jil Sander, Christopher Kane and more share the space with Primate Pile Up by Andy Hillman – an oversized gorilla pondering life on planet fashion.
The fourth floor is home to more Comme des Garçons ranges, egg and the tiny Rose Bakery, where the carrot cake is highly regarded.
So where does Hermès come into this? Well, amazingly, Kawakubo has designed a range of scarves for them, called Comme des Carrés. I know, it’s hard to imagine. Queen of anti-fashion meets luxury brand? Monochrome obsessive meets home counties favourite? Yes – with six scarf designs in a limited edition of two hundred of each design. They’ll be launched on the DSM e-shop on the 6th February and in-store on the 12th. They’re expected to sell out fast, even at £400 a pop.
Coaching scarf with checks, £330; 90cm Couvertures et Tenues de Jour with message, £330; 90cm Quadrige scarf with dots, £330; 90cm Circuit 24 Faubourg with gingham patch, £450. Photo: Hermès.
DSM photos courtesy of Dover Street Market.