PARIS — Retail maverick Rei Kawakubo is about to unveil a campaign against shopping uniformity and architectural grandeur.
This story first appeared in the January 26, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Next month, in a remote neighborhood in the former East Berlin, Kawakubo plans to unveil her first Comme des Garçons “guerrilla” store, a temporary fashion operation whose concept is more akin to an artist’s squat than a luxury fashion temple.
“It only lasts one year, and we don’t do anything to the place,” explained Adrian Joffe, managing director of Comme des Garçons in Paris. “We just go in there, clean it up and open for business.”
The 750-square-foot Berlin store, for example, will be in the gallery-studded frontier neighborhood Mitte, in a former bookstore located next to the Bertolt Brecht museum. Aside from the necessary fixtures for a fashion store — a sign, clothing racks, a cash desk and fixtures — the existing decor, or lack of it, is left intact.
Joffe said the Berlin space, with its raw concrete walls and floor, has “incredible atmosphere,” but the idea is to put the focus on the merchandise.
“What counts is the product,” he said in an interview. “What’s important is interesting, good products, not multimillion-dollar architectural interventions.”
A second guerrilla unit is slated to bow in Barcelona in early March. Other targeted cities include Vilnius in Lithuania, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Warsaw. “There’s a lot of interest from Eastern Europe,” Joffe noted. However, he said he could also envision guerrilla stores in other Western Europe countries and the United States.
In each city, Comme des Garçons plans to partner with local entrepreneurs, who sign the lease and run the shop.
Joffe said he and Kawakubo are charged with selecting the merchandise, an eclectic mix of new items from her various collections; selected out-of-season and vintage pieces, sneakers and other products are selected by the local partners. Joffe said the idea is to keep prices “reasonable” to reflect the purchasing power of the available clientele.
The Berlin shop will be operated by an unusual trio: a former organizer of the Love Parade techno fest; an architecture student, and the fashion-obsessed son of the owner of Vong, a Vietnamese noodle shop, where Kawakubo and Joffe hatched the guerrilla store idea.
Joffe said the stores would be promoted by plastering posters all over the city, with word of mouth also driving traffic.
Even though money may be scarce in some of the cities and areas being targeted, Joffe described the financial risk as low, since rents are typically “like nothing” in under-the-radar neighborhoods.
Comme des Garçons also operates a chain of more conventional retail stores for its 10 brands, with some 300 stores and corners across Japan. There are also Comme des Garçons boutiques in New York and Paris, plus the firm wholesales to about 250 specialty stores worldwide.