In case you didn’t know, it’s changeover time in Japanese shops - the point at which entire stores are closed for a short period, remerchandised and then reopened to an admiring public.
Address 17-18 Dover Street, London W1S
Total stores One branch in London, one in Tokyo
Brands Comme des Garçons, Givenchy, Sacai
Total SQ FT 13,000
That, or a version of it, was the story being peddled last week after three days of intensive rearrangement at Dover Street Market, the luxury store conceptualised by Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo. The outcome was new collections left, right and centre, as well as on each of the store’s multiple floors.
The most obvious changes were in the basement and on the third floor, but overall this was a store that looked the part - although, as ever, deep pockets are required. Visiting Dover Street Market is always an experience, but now is a good time to pay a visit, as much for the interior changes as for the stock itself.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Flawless visual merchandising is a rarity - there’s usually something you can pick holes in, but Dover Street Market is more difficult to find fault with than most. The main window is filled with a large ornate hedge, but not of the kind you’d find enclosing the front garden of a suburban semi. Instead, this is a hedge of many colours and plants - or at least that’s the way it looks. But it does set the tone for much of what follows inside, where every floor, every area and almost every VM vignette are different. The only things that seem to unify much of what’s on show are the open-sided wooden structures which make multiple rooms on each floor. After that it’s carte blanche, with everything from a soft-sculpture black gorilla, to an outsize green trumpet.
02 - CONCEPT
The concept remains much the same as always - this is a large shop in a very expensive part of Mayfair where the well-heeled can indulge themselves by buying cutting-edge fashion from multiple brands, with Comme des Garçons at the heart of things. The mix may change seasonally, but the notion of this as an upscale market where you can look at the produce as though you were at a local street market holds good. In London, it also remains unique.
03 - SERVICE
Perfectly pleasant service is the hallmark of this emporium, but it remains hard to escape the sense you are being measured up. All of the staff are, of course, fashion victims - it would be odd if they were not - and it’s not so much the size of your wallet (although this matters), but your place in the fashion hierarchy that is being assessed. This is fine, if you happen to enjoy looking outré, but for the rest of us, falling short may mean you don’t enjoy quite the same sense of importance.
04 - PRODUCT
Stand in front of the door that separates the shop from the staircase and lift and there’s a brand directory listing which names are to be found on each floor. The various offers from Comme des Garçons are available on every floor, but after that it’s upscale open season, with everybody from Céline to Jil Sander, by way of Saint Laurent. The single element that unites all of this is price. At the upper end, a pair of unlined Céline trousers can be yours for £1,150, for example.
05 - COMPETITION
In Dover Street, Bond Street and environs, the competition is ever-present. The fact that Dover Street Market has just emerged from its changeover period may mean there is much that is new to look at, but there is no getting away from the fact that luxury merchandise is all around, in depth. But where the store does score is in its ability to take elements from multiple labels and meld them to create a branded miscellany that works. From this perspective, the store is probably the best at what it does in the area and is also one of the few non mono-brand luxury offers in central London.
06 - VERDICT - THE PROSPECTS ARE GOOD
Curation, in fashion circles, is something of a buzz term these days, but Dover Street Market has been curating since it opened in 2006. It is worth visiting at least twice a year to check out the biannual changeover, if only because you get a completely new snapshot of what’s happening at the happening end of the luxury fashion market. In terms of display, Dover Street Market always seems able to provide a new take. There are perennials -the T-shirt vending machine has long been a mainstay. In spite of this, the store seems almost as fresh as it was the day it opened.