Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe are the tireless twosome causing ripples in the zeitgeist. Welcome to Dover Street Market—New York’s newest fashion ecstasy machine!
Rei Kawakubo is the supreme avant-guardian and Zen-like dream weaver who founded Comme des Garçons way back in 1973. Besides creating rumbustious, retina-zapping ranges that hack your brainwaves and look more like otherworldly origami than clothes, she and her gung ho gang of iconoclasts ingeniously pioneered pop-ups and guerilla shops in the late nineties/early 00’s and have made some of the most incredible garments, recognisable icons and sartorial gizmos the world has ever known. Her husband and partner in crime, Adrian Joffe, is the softly-spoken, hyper-polyglot entrepreneur (he speaks Tibetan and Japanese) and CEO with an uncanny knack of winnowing out the wheat from the chaff. Together they are the DreamWorks of the fashion world and big-wig ayatollahs of the avant-garde, sprinkling star dust on Gotham’s Gramercy/Murray Hill neighbourhood with the eagerly anticipated, majestically renovated DSM-NY.
The newest store, which follows on the heels of London's monolithic Dover Street, Tokyo's Ginza location and numerous backwater pop-ups, is like an indoor cathedral, a fashion fortress and tour de force with over 20,000-square-feet, seven floors, a centralized crystalline elevator and an eye-boggling assemblage of the proprietors’ pursuits: menswear, womenswear, astral accessories, art and novelty items from the most coveted collections, celebrated designers and underground upstarts (Azzedine Alaïa, Supreme, Tricot CDG, Black CDG, PLAY, A.P.C., Christopher Kane, Junya Watanabe, Rick Owens, Juun J, J.W.Anderson and Nike, to name some).
Looking at the 103-year-old venue you feel immersed in a romantic-majestic mondo of imagination complete with a colonnaded limestone façade, hybridized neo-classical interior and sprawling gold-encrusted tree sculptures designed by the Japanese artist Kohei Nawa. The space teems with regimented rails, rows and quirky, customised cases of avant-garde everything (many of the designers and artists have fabricated their own sections and micro-interiors) and the Brooklyn-based artist Calx Vive will debut a range of ‘sonic experiences’—transmitted through various sculptures positioned throughout the store.
Located at #160 Lexington Avenue and 30th street, DSM-NY is poised to be NYC’s coolest concept boutique, offering a smorgasboard of global brands, creatives, collabs, one-offs and even a Parisian-style café—the esteemed Rose Bakery. With the competition currently quaking in their boots and DSM-NY’s doors set to open on 21 DEC 2013 at 11am sharp, we can expect a perfect storm of money, marketability, art, fashion and instant gratification. i-D fired off a few questions at the head honchos, Rei and Adrian, about the store’s fresh start in NYC and their underlying philosophy.
How did DSM come to fruition in NYC and why this address?
We started eying up the property after a friend suggested the building to us. It was love at first sight! The property has a really unique history: built in 1909, perfectly formatted and formerly the New York School of Applied Design for Women and, subsequently, Touro College, we fell in love. In terms of the business, NYC currently has nothing like DSM so we felt like we could fill a void and add value to the city’s retail landscape.
How will DSM-NY differentiate itself along lines of aesthetic and assortment?
We’ve completely demolished and refurbished the space’s interior. But with the overhaul it will nonetheless embody an unabashedly ‘NYC-spirit’ and will distinguish itself along lines of design originality and unique, cutting-edge merchandise. It will be a kind of hybrid retail concept that fuses together department store, gallery and concept boutique; we want to adhere to our underlying ethos of "beautiful chaos" and that’s what the newest iteration will represent.
Do you mind that the neighbourhood is virtually devoid of fashion stores, boutiques and retailers?
We think it’s all about the store’s site, the building’s heritage and our brand(s). We’re not that worried about the foot traffic or the absence of a retail cluster. In fact, it’s an added bonus for us that we’re here all alone. (Our Mayfair location is also located on a very quiet block and somewhat removed from traditional retail venues. It’s a good thing!).
How do you balance art and commerce in a complex, globalized world?
Basically, creativity comes first and commerce second. Even though we are expanding around the world with numerous labels and extensions in our portfolio, Rei oversees everything and puts the creative process at the heart of the business.
How would you characterize the ‘fashion system’ today and what are your core values?
Generally it’s a commoditized hodge-podge of high-street labels and ‘fast-fashion’/diffusion/RTW and luxury lines. At DSM our objective is to embrace hard work, high quality, creativity and inventiveness. Our ‘kachikan’, or system of values, goes into everything the company does. Not just clothing but everything. It has to be novel and it has to be fundamentally creative.
With regard to CDG in particular, is it a challenge to market and sell such theatrical and abstract offerings?
We make and market around 95% of what we show on the runway during fashion week. We even produce pared down, more wearable versions of the originals or re-fashion/resurrect looks from the archives. CDG and DSM have a die-hard, “fundamentalist” customer base and the business does very, very well.
What’s the division of labour like?
I mainly deal with the organizational structure and processes; Rei is the creative adrenaline, design director and dream-maker.
In your view, how does fashion relate to personal identity?
The clothing you wear corresponds to and governs your demeanor and emotions; it shapes peoples’ perceptions of you and influences your identity. Fashion plays a key ontological role in defining the ‘self.’
SHOP OPENING: 21 DEC 2013 at 11AM #160 Lexington Avenue + 30th street, NYC
Text Cody Ross