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Dover Street Market Tachiagari, London

Dover Street Market’s bi-annual Tachiagari makes a visit to this upmarket fashion hot spot a must for those interested in creative merchandising

Last week saw the Tachiagari at Dover Street Market in London’s Mayfair. In case you’re none the wiser, Tachiagari translates from Japanese as starting or beginning. There is still a chance that this will all be fairly opaque, so a few words of explanation. Dover Street Market is a six-storey shop that is, more or less, set out like a market but where the stalls are populated by designer types. It revamps its look every season - hence the term Tachiagari.

The ‘market’ is, in fact, the brainchild of Rei Kawakubo, the fashion genius behind the Comme des Garçons label, and much of the space inside is devoted to Comme des Garçons merchandise. That said, the multiple levels also play host to a large number of emerging and thoroughly emerged designers, each of whom is given space and, it would appear, relative freedom to set out their “stall” in whatever shape or form they might deem appropriate.

The point about the Tachiagari at Dover Street Market, however, is that it really is a new beginning for many of the denizens of this upmarket market - a point at which not just the stock but many of the shop-in-shops are remodelled. This makes it worth a visit whether you’re a visual merchandiser or a fashionista. In a number of instances, such as the space occupied by the Lanvin label, displays used in flagship stores are adapted to fit the faux rough-and-ready market environment.

The store, if it can be termed thus, has been up and running for the best part of a decade now, but the constant reinvention dictated by the policy of operating a Tachiagari makes a diversion from nearby Bond Street more than worthwhile.

Key looks and merchandise mix

It is the nature of a good market that any visit will represent temptation and that there will be a wide variety of different articles on sale. This far at least, Dover Street Market conforms to the moniker on the windows and it has the secondary effect of making trying to tie down the nature of what’s on offer a little difficult. There are small hats on sale on the top floor, at £400, and Comme des Garçons white cotton T-shirts for close to £60, but head downstairs and there are bags that are the result of a collaboration between Apple Corps, the firm founded by The Beatles, and Comme des Garçons. Again, a few hundred pounds and you can take ownership but this is not for the faint of wallet. There are, of course, staple shirts from Comme des Garçons and, if all else fails, there’s a small range of Dr Martens footwear in the basement.

6/10

Visual merchandising

This is really rather the point of Dover Street Market. There are few other retailers anywhere that would opt to scatter examples of the taxidermist’s art at the entrance to the store, yet since the outset this has set the tone for this emporium. Couple this with a favela-style shanty dwelling, used as stock room and cash desk, and a scaffold comprised of bolted-together reinforced steel joists that have been painted red and you have the measure of surprise that characterises Dover Street Market.

All of these features have been here since the beginning, however, and it is all on the ground floor. Venture into the upper floors and the Tachiagari, in terms of visual merchandising, becomes rather more obvious. On the top floor, pride of place probably goes to Lanvin, which has a domestic scene formed by scarecrows fashioned from pieces of jointed plywood topped by paper bag-style heads and sitting on a posh-looking embroidered three-piece suite.

The fact that this vignette takes up a large portion of the mid-floor, serving no commercial function other than to add interest to the floor, is a measure of how few articles have to be sold at this price level to make things work.

Around the corner from this, there’s a sculptural wood structure, constructed from black-painted wood that looks like a scene from an Escher drawing and which is used to display footwear.

Another turn takes you to the area occupied by Hussein Chalayan. A black electricity pylon appears to poke through the wall and the electric cables it supports are used as a garment rail, complete with a crow perched on one of the wires. And on and on. The free rein afforded to the many design acts means that the Tachiagari at Dover Street Market holds surprises at every turn.

9/10

Service

Markets are democratic institutions, respecting nobody but including all. In spite of the design-led pricing of the merchandise on offer here, the same egalitarian approach characterises the service. Everybody is made welcome and even if you are a little puzzled by some of the more outré offerings, you will not be made to feel unwanted. To a large extent, this probably has much to do with the fact that the ‘staff’ are, in a number of cases, the people responsible for the clothes on display. Friendly, unassuming and helpful would sum up the attitude.

8/10

Store appeal

Ever since it opened in the early years of the last decade, Dover Street Market has been about providing the unexpected and that design ethos has changed little during the intervening years. The storefront features an agitprop-style use of black sticky tape, plastered across the window to inform passers-by that film set designer Michael Howells has been working on the interior. Inside, the eclectic nature of the various shop-in-shops, ranging from those that appear to have been fashioned from whatever was to hand, to slick, high-gloss installations, defies ready categorisation. The only thing that is readily apparent is that Dover Street Market succeeds in surprising on each of its six floors.

8/10

Would I buy?

Maybe. The friendly PR who conducted the tour through the building said she was “poor” because she worked in the fashion industry, “recognised quality” and therefore had to have the statement pieces that were on view everywhere. All fine, but most people would prefer not to blow all of their disposable on the perfect shirt or jacket, meaning that Dover Street Market is about highly considered purchases. It is entirely possible to see how the modern bohemian interior could persuade shoppers to dig deep.

7/10

Verdict

The Tachiagari at Dover Street Market provides a good reason to visit one of the capital’s enduring fashion hot spots. This is one of those rare beasts that really does set the pace in terms of store design and whose influence continues to be felt in less rarified outlets.

39/50

Essentials

Location Mayfair, London

Number of floors Six

Amount of change This varies from floor to floor but this season the upper levels have received the greatest attention

Highlight Lanvin scarecrow installation on the fourth floor.

There are two Tachiagaris, or in-store changes, each year at Dover Street Market - spring and autumn

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