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Dover Street Market Paris — Paris’s New Hub of Avant-Garde Fashion and Art

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DSMP embodies a spirit of experiment. An evolved version of what Joffe and Kawakubo ultimately are pursuing – a big playground of creative minds with no boundaries.
Dover Street Market Paris

Two decades ago, Dover Street Market (DSM) opened its doors in London, on a tranquil street filled with art galleries, with the aim to “create something new, open-minded, and borderless.” Over the years, DSM has become a mecca for fashion enthusiasts, constantly introducing emerging designers and coveted exclusive collaborations. The store has expanded to Tokyo, New York, Singapore, Beijing, LA, and finally Paris on its 20th anniversary. “For sure it wasn’t planned,” noted Adrian Joffe, the co-pilot of Dover Street Market and Comme des Garçons with wife Rei Kawakubo.

Dover Street Market Paris
The opening day (24/5/2024) of DSMP

Paris seems a very natural choice. Comme des Garçons has been hosting its show in Paris since the early ’80s. Looking back, Kawakubo has created many meaningful moments in fashion in this city. In 1987, Kawakubo invited Jean-Michel Basquiat, a loyal client of Comme des Garçons, to walk their men’s show in Paris. Basquiat’s approach to fashion is very similar to Kawakubo’s approach to DSM. Charlie Porter described his style as “oversized, off-kilter, chaos in control” in his book What Artists Wear. Coincidentally, “beautiful chaos” is what DSM is known for. Although occupying golden nugget locations around the world, Kawakubo didn’t design DSM as a luxury store. The concrete floor exudes an industrial feeling, the displays are raw and organic. To have a unified aesthetic, even the metal racks and installations are produced in Japan and shipped to Paris.

Dover Street Market Paris (Interior)
Dover Street Market Paris
Dover Street Market Paris (Interior)
Natural light cascades inside the shop floor on the 1st floor of DSMP.

Rose Bakery interior designed by Rei Kawakubo

Find It Yourself

I still remember when I temporarily worked at DSM in London during a summer vacation back in 2016. A lady approached me and said, “I thought you closed!” I explained to her that we just weren’t opening the door facing the main street of Haymarket; the main gate is on a small alley called Orange Street. She responded, “I’ve been in fashion retail for decades, and I’m telling you that you are making a major mistake!” After I expressed gratitude for her professional advice, her next question was, “Where is the toilet?”

 

Kawakubo has often said that the more the customer is made to work to find things themselves, the greater their sense of satisfaction will be. And DSMP creates that enchantment of discovery with its special curation of space:

Located at 35-37 in Paris’s Le Marais area, while the façade keeps the original look of the historic Hôtel de Coulanges, built between 1627 and 1634, the interior is designed by Kawakubo. No clothing will be visible from the outside, it doesn’t hint the message that “we are a fashion shop”, inviting the guest to discover the space themselves.

For the first time, you will find no concession space in the store dedicated to any specific luxury brand. This breaks the modus operandi of how luxury houses work with retailers. To create an egalitarian and free environment that doesn’t sort things by brands or their market propositions, it takes leverage power to negotiate with premier maisons who understand the concept and are willing to overrule the brand’s own retail codes. For now, Prada, Balenciaga, Miu Miu, and Bottega Veneta are the big names who share this vision.

DSMP Dover Street Market Paris
For the first time, you will find no concession space in the store dedicated to any specific luxury brand.
Duran Lantink in DSMP
Duran Lantink in DSMP
Duran Lantink
Duran Lantink
Comme des Garçons Champion Rings in DSMP
Comme des Garçons Champion Rings in DSMP
MIKIMOTO X Comme des Garçons in DSMP
MIKIMOTO X Comme des Garçons in DSMP

All brands are mixed, clients are left browsing without knowing what is coming up. “Only the trust in accidents and the faith in free thinking have guided us,” noted Adrian. When designing the space, Kawakubo deliberately did not make it too easy for the client, guiding them to follow paths of discovery to find things that have been hidden. As Lao Tzu said, quoted by Adrian, “A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” When exploring the floors, I lost my sense of direction a few times, yet it feels quite different from losing your way in Harrods. The unfussy white-toned space with sunlight in the afternoon cascaded from the window, and the chilled visitors alleviate the hecticness, and it feels quite alright to follow the crowd to wander around.

Carla Sozzani, the founder of 10 Corso Como, was also there on the opening day. When I asked her what was so special about the newly opened DSMP, she told me that the beauty of DSMP is that people need to put in the effort to find what they want.

Adrian Joffe (left), Carla Sozzani (centre) and Stephen Jones on the opening day of DSMP
Adrian Joffe (left), Carla Sozzani (centre) and Stephen Jones on the opening day of DSMP

The People

If you ask me what is the best thing about DSM in general, I would tell you – the people!

On the opening day, accompanied by Mrs Sozzani was Kamel. Always with a warm smile, Kamel was working at DSM in London and is now based at DSMP. You might get shopping assistance from this fashion veteran who knows everybody (Suzy Menkes also posted a photo with him on the opening day), remembers every face, and secretly is a talented illustrator who casually draws art on tissue paper only to kill time when he was bored on the shopping floor.

On the first floor, there was an independent bookshop called Librairie 1909, right next to the shelf of Prada & Miu Miu. The founder is Kelly Bonneville, from Drusenheim (a French border of Germany), who has been collecting books for over two decades. In the 1909 bookshop, you see a curated selection of rare books and lost editions balanced out with new releases of independent publications. She told me the core of her collection is music. For her, photography, literature, everything comes from music: “Music, we believe, connects not only all the other arts but all of us.” It reminded me of a fashion buyer friend who would visit DSM from another city only to come out with a vintage magazine.

Kelly in 1909 Bookstore at DSMP
Kelly in 1909 Bookstore at DSMP

I also met Watanabe-san on the ground floor, who was a team crew member from DSM Ginza and could even speak good Mandarin. He was in a white Comme des Garçons suit on the opening day. Basically, everybody in the shop has their distinctive personal styles. Interestingly, DSM never forces a uniform or dress code for their staff, which allows the staff to dress freely and demonstrate their own opinions through clothing. To my amazement, somehow people can just tell they work there.

DSMP
Watanabi san (left) with a client in DSMP.

As we grow and expand, it feels at this juncture-point that we should aim at a higher dimension, to deepen what is good, to put our consciousness into our awareness, to plan for more of the unexpected.

Event Space

Before opening to the public as the eighth branch of DSM, 35-37 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois serves as an artistic centre for the DSM team for two years, hosting exhibitions, happenings, musical performances, brand installations, and retail spaces.

Matty Bovan installation in DSMP
Matty Bovan installation in DSMP
Matty Bovan installation in DSMP
Matty Bovan installation in DSMP
Matty Bovan installation in DSMP
Matty Bovan installation in DSMP
Paolo Roversi for Comme des Garçons exhibition in DSMP
Paolo Roversi for Comme des Garçons exhibition in DSMP

Today, this cultural function of 3537 didn’t get lost yielding to the retail function of the space. In fact, inside the grand townhouse, the retail space only occupies the ground and first floors, plus one of the three basements in the Hôtel de Coulanges. The other two basements (BF-1 and BF-2), together with the courtyard, will entertain art, literary, music, and community events.

 

“As we grow and expand, it feels at this juncture-point that we should aim at a higher dimension, to deepen what is good, to put our consciousness into our awareness, to plan for more of the unexpected.”

 

DSMP embodies a spirit of experiment. It follows the same design code as the rest of the DSM stores around the world, yet it is different from any of those branches: An evolved version of what Joffe and Kawakubo ultimately are pursuing – a big playground of creative minds with no boundaries.

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