LONDON — Rei Kawakubo, a designer at the forefront of fashions that are destroyed and frayed, has translated that groundbreaking idea into a building form.
Her new Dover Street Market, a 13,000-square-foot multibrand emporium that opens to the public here on Saturday, is a gritty alternative to the typical designer temple, with rusting corrugated metal instead of wenge wood and construction site Porta-Potties in lieu of plush dressing rooms.
“It’s taking that concept [of imperfection] to the extreme. For my eye, it’s beautiful,” Kawakubo told WWD as she admired hulking shelves made of recovered plywood, much of it flown in at great expense from her native Japan. “I think creating retail spaces like this is an integral part of the design world of Comme des Garçons.”
Kawakubo, also making waves with her sprawling network of “guerrilla” stores, has said she wanted an atmosphere of “chaos” for her new London outpost, in which Comme des Garçons brands rub shoulders with stands offered to the likes of Lanvin, Raf Simons and the antique dealer Emma Hawkins.
That was certainly the case Thursday, as teams of Japanese and English construction workers scrambled to ready the store for a grand unveiling to the international press today. Azzedine Alaïa, selling everything from Jean Prouve furniture to his clingy dresses on the first floor, had to duck out of harm’s way as metal girders and planks, which pass for shelving in Kawakubo’s world, were maneuvered into place.
As unfinished as the store appeared Thursday at noon, Kawakubo, dressed in a crumpled red jacket and MC Hammer-style pants, oversaw every detail and designed most of the fixtures. Meanwhile, her husband, Adrian Joffe, who is also Comme des Garçons’ managing director in Europe, orchestrated the mix of vendors and hammered out almost two dozen concession agreements with the likes of Hedi Slimane (for furniture) to Japanese fashion label Undercover, which naturally chose the basement of the six-story complex.
Joffe said it cost about 1 million pounds, or $1.8 million at current exchange, to build the store, which is expected to generate first-year volume of 5 million pounds, or $9 million, and to reach profitability within a year.
While acknowledging it’s an untested concept, Kawakubo said she always trusts her instincts; and local markets, after which Dover Street is modeled, remain her favorite shopping destination for their authenticity and the energy and sense of discovery they generate.
“When I first came to London, you bought all your clothes at Kensington Market and at the one in Beaufort Street,” recalled stylist Joe McKenna, who has a stand tucked between Comme des Garçons Shirt and Alaïa. It stocks Comme T-shirts bearing photos he selected by photographers David Simms and Ines Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, along with Bruce Weber’s new clothing line, Weberbilt.
“But this is a rather posh market,” he allowed.
And unorthodox in countless ways — from velvet curtains instead of a window display to checkouts sheltered in huts that look like they were plucked from a shantytown.
“You can’t do anything new and exciting without taking any risk,” said Joffe.
To be sure, Kawakubo’s guerrilla stores, artist-squat-like operations that operate for only one year in frontier locales of cities, are already flying high in places like Berlin, Barcelona and Singapore. A unit in Ljubljana, Slovenia, is slated to bow today, with Stockholm, Warsaw and Helsinki locations opening later this month
“They’re all doing 150 percent ahead of projections,” Joffe reported proudly. Comme des Garçons, which saw sales rise 7 percent last year to $135 million, also operates a chain of more conventional retail stores, including about 290 boutiques and corners around Japan. In addition to the new Dover Street location, which replaces a franchise unit on Brook Street here, there are flagships in Paris and London.