In Paris, Dover Street Market Pushes Against the Tide

The Comme des Garçons–owned retailer’s newly opened Paris outpost is putting major stock in independent labels at a tricky economic time for fashion upstarts, but Rei Kawakubo’s idiosyncratic approach shows early signs of paying off.

An exhibition of Paolo Roversi photographs in the courtyard

It hasn’t been a fruitful past few months for indie fashion labels. The Vampire’s Wife and Mara Hoffman announced their brands would shutter, online distributor MatchesFashion went into administration, and Farfetch narrowly avoided collapse by selling to South Korean e-commerce mainstay Coupang. When making it in fashion feels impossible given increasingly precarious economic conditions that are causing even celebrity-favorite designers like Elena Velez to narrowly escape the red, it may seem counterintuitive that Dover Street Market would open a Paris emporium chock full of indie brands. The Comme des Garçons–owned retailer is betting on the city’s stylish Marais district—and founder Rei Kawakubo’s idiosyncratic approach that has created a growing fleet of successful outposts in New York City, London, Tokyo, Singapore, Los Angeles, and Beijing.

Browsing through Dover Street Market is meant to elicit feelings of mystery and discovery. That’s no different in Paris, where Kawakubo eschewed window displays and branded spaces altogether in favor of placing all products behind glossy white curved alcoves that seem straight out of a sci-fi flick. Merchandise is mixed together regardless of price—hand-distressed Comme des Garçons blazers neighbor stacks of reasonably priced T-shirts and an array of indie brands like runway upstarts Weinsanto and Vaquera. “My ideal is that people search for, discover, and then choose the clothes they want to wear,” Kawakubo once said, “having thought about it and felt something by themselves, on their own.” That may also explain why luxury mainstays Prada, Bottega Veneta, and Balenciaga, which usually shun wholesale, are all in stock, further reinforcing Dover Street’s cool factor.

Retail displays designed by Rei Kawakubo

The store’s opening day may have seen heavy interest, but it followed years of delays. Comme des Garçons secured the historic manor’s lease in late 2019, but pushed the opening back due to the pandemic halting tourism and foot traffic. Instead, the company converted the space into a cultural nonprofit called 3537 that hosted temporary exhibitions, fashion shows, and dance performances to build excitement for the soon-to-open store. That strategy seems to be working so far. According to Business of Fashion, a mob of 2,500 visitors attended the grand opening, yielding €75,000 ($81,000) in sales. The emporium is targeting €12 million ($13 million) in first-year revenue and aims to reach profitability by year two, though previous locations took three to five years.

Betting on indie labels during turbulent economic times is a gamble, but perhaps it will pay off. “I’d love it to be like a destination for tourists. And a place where Parisians can hang out and be happy,” Adrian Joffe, Dover Street Market’s president and Kawakubo’s husband, tells WWD. “Our ambition is more to keep on providing something stimulating, something exciting. If it becomes more popular than the Eiffel Tower, we’re gonna have to hire some more security.”

All images courtesy of Dover Street Market.

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