Owned by Comme des Garçons and known for its daring edit, creative visual merchandising and bi-annual “tachiagari” whereby the interior of the store is completely reborn, Dover Street Market is a multi-brand retail experience rooted in ‘beautiful chaos’ that offers some of the world’s most avant-garde menswear.
Since breaking new ground, in 2004, in London's Dover Street, then a retail backwater far from the established luxury shopping corridor of nearby Bond Street, Dover Street Market has added additional locations in Tokyo, Beijing (in partnership with I.T) and New York. Each season, the stores invite select designers to create unique art installation-like spaces and pop-ups to house their offering and carry many of fashion's leading names, alongside Comme des Garçons' own menswear lines.
We spoke to Adrian Joffe, president of Comme des Garçons International and retail guru behind Dover Street Market, to learn more.
What makes Dover Street Market special?
We just do what we think is good, exciting and new, and everybody else taps us. We don’t try and tap into things; we try to lead. It’s risky, but leading is not something that we’ve ever been afraid of. We just have to be ahead. It’s the nature of Dover Street Market. We’re not a company that makes 5-year plans. Things happen as they come about — it’s very synergetic and accidental.
Tell me about the birth of Dover Street Market.
The idea was to do a new concept in retail and to make retail exciting, based on fashion of all different kinds, without categorising it too much. The idea of Dover Street Market is to put it in a context of beautiful chaos — those are the words we use. Street stuff, casual stuff, classic things, very strong creative things, all mixed up together in a kind of visually exciting, synergy of visions all put together.
When you first launched, Dover Street was a retail backwater.
We’re not afraid of developing new areas. But it’s a combination of factors. We need to sell, we need to pay the rent, so we do have those kind of targets and budgets. For New York, we thought about doing a store, somebody found a building and we just thought, that’s a nice and interesting area and rent isn’t too expensive. You know, we found that the building was perfect and unusual, so we got it.
Dover Street Market is known for the daring composition of its buys. How does this work commercially?
Nothing is isolated. It’s a very fine balance. We may have something because we think it looks amazing and we know we’re not going to sell it. Then we’ll get something to try balance that out that will be really commercial but not boring. Or maybe the mix of those two things tells the story and that’s why we have those two things. I think if you want to describe it, there’s a certain authenticity.
What drives your unique approach to visual merchandising?
The basic tenor of the whole company is something new or something creative — but creation has to change by its very nature. If it stays the same then it’s not creation. Without creation there’s no progress. That’s why we take that primary DNA of our mother company and we try to translate it to the Dover Street Market context of constantly changing and closing down completely to change the store inside, twice a year. I don’t think any other shop in the world does that. We close down completely, no-one can come, but it’s just part of the whole process. Like chaos itself, we’re constantly changing.