Back in 2004, two people decided they would flip the way the world viewed luxury clothing shops, and create a contemporary retail space for your far from average customers. As soon as you walk into DSM, you are greeted by oversized ornaments, spiralling staircases, French workers, who barely speak English, and of course the extravagant clothing collections from runway labels, like Gucci, but also independent brands like Paradise skateboards. The sheer wackiness and eccentricity space brings to London is what I admire about it the most, there is no other place quite like Dover Street, making it hard to believe Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe only started it in the 2000s. Kawakubo herself described the shop as a ‘Beautiful chaos’, which I couldn’t have put any better myself.
Back in 1981, Kawakubo did her first fashion show in Paris. Little did she know, it would be the start of her career in infiltrating the fashion industry, challenging gender norms and bringing a riotous punk energy to the runway. Over the years, some of the clothing she has made has been outrageous, and therefore it is no surprise that Dover Street is the way it is, supporting skater brands with an equally abrasive aesthetic and ‘fuck the industry’ attitude. Comme Des Garçons has been going since 1969, where it specialised in female clothing and started to become famous for its use of distressed fabrics, and the colour black. Of course, the label has developed a lot since then, and its offshoot line ‘Play’ bursts with colour and French-inspired stripy patterns. Kawakubo has always admired France’s culture; Comme Des Garçons’ second head office is based in the heart of Paris, proving her affiliations with the country.
Many heritage high street brands have collaborated with Rei along the way, as bizarre as her dresses can be, she has released famous collections with the likes of Fred Perry and reimagined Converse and Nike silhouettes. It is difficult for a pair of the Play Converse to leave your peripheral vision nowadays, and the Air Max 180 shoes, that the brand reworked this year, are one of the maddest pairs of Nikes I have seen in recent times. This is why, to me, Comme Des Garçons is the most influential label in the world. They can appreciate more affordable brands, and make clothing that is accessible, affordable, but also suitable for the runway. CDG has a bit of a cult following from celebrities too, A$AP Nast is one of the biggest streetwear influencers in the world and has recently paid homage to Kawakubo on his Instagram. Kanye West would also be lying if he said his ‘Yeezy’ line wasn’t inspired by some of her work, the distressed look was pursued by the label in the 1980s.
CDG’s ‘Play’ line is their best selling collection; it is aimed at a younger, more casual audience who are into streetwear rather than high-end fashion. The prominence of the heart logo is undeniable in today’s world, it is a whole lifestyle on its own and dominates the racks of Dover Street Market. When the line was introduced, it added to the egalitarian nature of the shop and started to build an unusual following of teenagers. This audience also adopted Gosha Rubchinsky as their idol, who would become the pioneer of the Post Soviet fashion trend that DSM used to stock exclusively. This heightened the brand and brought in more customers, which oddly enough Kawakubo needed after a few unsuccessful first years for her department store.
In 2016, Dover Street opened its new location in Haymarket, seizing the opportunity for a new space, where Kawakubo could regurgitate everything successful from her old flagship shop, and look to make a space even more innovative than the last. Just a few years before this, she opened up a store in NYC and a second in Tokyo, proving Comme Des Garçons was edging closer to world domination. The interior design stayed playful, mixing electric colours with Willy Wonka-esque furniture, and putting couture Dior collections next to Gucci. They have continued to support youthful brands made by some of the best designers in the world, like Craig Green, and they still have the best space for tee shirts too, where new brands like ‘expert horror’ and ‘Bianca Chandon’ have been able to show off their designs to new customers.
Before it’s reopening in Haymarket, the concept store was picking up awards left, right and centre. Influencers like Complex news dubbed the shop ‘the second best in the world’; it’s Mayfair location, on the actual Dover Street, helped this as space seemed so abnormal admits the more formal, high-end shops like Jimmy Choo. It really is like no other store in the world; it is difficult to put into words how weird it is. Many have described it as a ‘visually exciting synergy of visions all put together’ and I’d have to agree. You could get lost in a high-end couture collection, but then come out of the other side draped in Stüssy fleeces and jumpers. Kawakubo is one of the most influential people in fashion ever; I hope CDG lives on and continues to support its more accessible ‘Play’ line too. For any news on future collections, come back and check our website.