LONDON, United Kingdom — From Rei Kawakubo’s daring and imaginative collections to the company’s unconventional retail strategies, epitomised by its Guerilla Stores and Dover Street Market emporiums, Comme des Garçons has long been a pioneering force in fashion, animated by a kachikan, or sense of values, rooted in creativity and the importance of continually giving birth to things that are genuinely new and different.
Yet curiously, the company, which generates about $220 million in annual revenue, has been something of a laggard when it comes to embracing the creative potential of the Internet. The brand operates a series of elegant but technically unsophisticated websites (only the Dover Street Market site offers e-commerce). And though Comme des Garçons’ loyal fans have taken matters into their own hands, launching popular accounts to celebrate the brand and its universe on social platforms like Tumblr and Facebook, the company has been completely inactive on social media. Until now.
This Friday, to coincide with its upcoming tenth anniversary, Dover Street Market is set to launch its first social media account on Instagram. So why now?
“We’re a very low-tech, lo-fi company and things have always happened organically. We don’t have a five year plan. It just happened as part of the ten year anniversary,” said Adrian Joffe, partner of Rei Kawakubo and president of the Paris-based Comme des Garçons International, in an exclusive interview.
The new Dover Street Market Instagram account (which will be managed by Laura Bradley, editor of AnOther Magazine’s website) will publish “quite abstract messaging. We think we can use Instagram to express our values,” continued Joffe. “We want to use Instagram as a magazine, rather than a constant daily diary of what products are in the stores. There will be chapters and stories. We want to communicate with a big wide audience, an audience we’ve never reached before, a global audience.”
But Dover Street Market’s first foray into social media is no harbinger of a more digitally active Comme des Garçons. The core brand, overseen by Rei Kawakubo, has no plans to launch social media accounts in the foreseeable future. “It’s the same reason why there is no Comme des Garçons website — it’s just images and information. She has enough to do. She makes the clothes. Dover Street is a different animal. It comes from the same mother, the same birth, but it’s a different thing — maybe getting more different,” said Joffe.
“The basic values will never be different from Comme des Garçons,” he continued. “But as [Dover Street Market] grows, who knows where the future takes us? Maybe suddenly it will get so big and different, it’ll become actually separated. Everything is always changing every day. The whole title of the anniversary is ‘The Next 10 Years.’ We’re not looking back.”
Indeed, true to its unconventional DNA, Dover Street Market’s ten year anniversary celebration will be the exact opposite of a traditional retrospective. “We wanted to have a whole month-long celebration with lots of events happening, changing the store completely. And part of that was a kind of starting point,” said Joffe. “It’s all about the future. We’re just testing how that future is.”
The celebrations will kick off at the retailer’s original, six-storey London store, which will reopen on September 1st, after three days of closure and re-construction, with a renovated basement and second floor, as well as an enlarged top-floor space for the Rose Bakery, a new first-floor event space (which will be occupied by Louis Vuitton for the entire Autumn/Winter 2014 season) and an expanded jewellery section and wallet display on the ground floor. Scattered throughout the building will be temporary market stalls — collectively dubbed “Market Street Dover” — hawking a wide range of exclusive products designed by Sacai, Simone Rocha, Gary Card, Giambattista Valli, Rick Owens, Casey Casey, Undercover, Craig Green, Nike and Palace Skateboards, among others. Many of the products that will debut as part of the celebration will be special one-offs, though “some things will be born at this time and carry on and grow up,” said Joffe.
As the month continues, each floor of the store will host events staged by a rotating cast of designers, who, on four special “open days” during September, will meet with customers and “generally hold court.” To mark the anniversary, the luxury retailer will also offer ten affordably-priced products — “things anyone can buy, souvenirs, tchotchkes” — designed in collaboration with Eastpak, Vans, Fred Perry, Sunspel, New Era and others.
But what of the future?
When Dover Street Market first opened ten years ago on what was then a quiet stretch of London’s Mayfair, the off-piste location and concept — part brand flagship, part luxury bazaar — were strikingly new and singular. But ten years later, Dover Street Market has expanded into China, Japan and the US; the retailer’s approach has been studied and copied by competitors; and a slew of fashion brands from Acne to APC have opened on the very same stretch of Dover Street that gave the store its name.
“Rei keeps saying, ‘What’s the new Dover Street Market, what’s going to happen tomorrow?’” said Joffe. “People catch up and the more you do, the harder it is to do new things because experience weighs you down. We have no idea what the future of Dover Street Market is… It’s not going to be bigger but the same thing. We keep trying to find the new way — what is the next new idea about retail?”
“We try to offer an experience that is exciting, stimulating, fun and entertaining — an experience so people want to come here and share. It has to be more than [just a place to buy things],” he added. “I think we’ve given people that and we hope to give more of that in the future.”
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 14 August, 2014. An earlier version of this article misstated that Rei Kawakubo had collaborated directly with Eastpak, Vans, Fred Perry, Sunspel, New Era and others to design products to mark the tenth anniversary of Dover Street Market. She did not. The collaborations were developed by Dover Street Market.