On December 21st of last year, an unassuming abandoned building in the frattiest neighborhoods in Manhattan, Murray Hill, was transformed into the newest location in the growing empire of Dover Street Market. When you step into this building, you are instantly transported into a playground of playful, experiment and occasionally insane fashion. The seven-floor complex is curated to encourage androgynous dressing with mens and womenswear all intermixed. At first, the result is jarring, even embarrassing as you try to navigate your way through the sections, flipping through odd sweaters and jackets only to realize that, well, they’re really meant for a woman’s body.
The sheer amount of sub-shops is likewise overwhelming. There’s Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Prada, visvim, Andre Walker and of course COMME des GARÇONS, technically the in-house brand. Prices are astronomical, for the most part 3- or 4-figures. Even the cafe on the ground floor, a transplanted Parisian institution called Rose Bakery, has the kind of fare priced for a king.
But, after you stop, take a deep breath, and let yourself get lost in the “beautiful chaos” of Dover Street Market, you come to realize that the beauty of this place lies in its overwhelming eclecticism.
Dover Street Market is the brainchild of 71-year-old Japanese Rei Kawakubo. She founded COMME des GARÇONS back in 1969 and launched the first Dover Street Market as the label’s ostensible home in London in 2004. That opening was followed in 2012 by another DSM in Ginza, Tokyo and now, by her Manhattan store.
Comme Des Garcon
To describe Dover Street Market as the home of COMME des GARÇONS, however, obscures the fact that DSM has made its name as the ultimate high-fashion collaborator. Back in the ‘90s, before collaborations were even a thing, Kawakubo asked Junya Watanabe to design his own one within the COMME des GARÇONS umbrella. Since then she’s enlisted a seemingly endless list of designers to do the same. From Tao Kurihara to Thom Browne, Fred Perry and brands such as Common Projects, Mykita, Dr. Martens, Nike, H&M and more, there’s always something new coming through the doors of a DSM.
Dover Street Market x Common Projects Achilles “Camouflage” & MYKITA for Dover Street Market 2013 Limited Edition
Not all are stand alone labels or cut-and-paste collaborations, some are simply corners of a store that host an instillation of some kind, but everyone that DSM hosts or works with has a surprising amount of freedom with which to go about their creating.
As Kayakubo explained to The Wall Street Journal,
With any collaboration or meeting of minds, I expect and hope for a kind of synergetic accident that may happen when somebody else’s work meets with my work, my designs. Collaborations have no meaning if 1 + 1 does not equal much more than 2. I give total freedom to Junya and Tao [Kurihara] to create their own collections. I see their work only on the day of the show. They have the values of CDG embedded within them. If there was no trust, it wouldn’t work.
On top of all the action within a Dover Street Market store, there is also a constant focus on pop-up shops,
In five years we have opened 37 different guerrilla shops with nonfashion partners in unheard-of places or in parts of cities hitherto untrammeled. By partnering with nonfashion people, and requiring that we open only for one year, and limiting the amount of money spent on each shop, we brought a breath of fresh air to retail. And it generated enormous sales! We were selling only the stock we already had locked up in the warehouse anyway.
In the world of fashion, where everything is about constant change, constant flux and adaptation, there’s perhaps no entity in the world that so completely embraces this sense of wild, obsessive change. It was the fictional Mad Men character Don Draper who said, “Let’s also say that change is neither good or bad, it simply is” but it’s Rei Kawakubo and Dover Street Market that have made change and constant playfulness their real life mantra. And that will continue to serve them well as they continue to collaborate.