Few, if any, stores in the world come close to Dover Street Market as a retail experience. The pioneering concept space is part of the COMME des GARCONS family, and is a must-visit for any fan of high-end, boundary-pushing fashion.
DSM stores are more like museums than regular shops, with unique spaces for each of the brands on sale — you’ll find Gosha Rubchinskiy housed on grey rails and concrete, while visvim is nestled away in a folksy corner. What’s more, each season the stores keep shoppers on their toes via so-called “New Beginnings“, where the stores’ interiors are given a new makeover.
Dover Street Market recently announced that it’d be opening not one, but two new stores — one in LA, and one in Singapore. The LA store won’t open until next year, but last weekend DSM Singapore opened its doors to a crowd of Asian fashion enthusiasts.
The latest DSM outpost comes in partnership with COMO Dempsey, the culinary subsidiary of asian luxury retail chain Club 21. The store is housed in an old army barracks in the city’s Tanglin Village, next door to a new COMO Dempsey concept restaurant and bar by renowned French restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Highsnobiety‘s Tim Suen caught up with COMME des GARCONS and Dover Street Market head honcho, Adrian Joffe, at the store’s opening. Joffe kindly took the time to discuss the effect of Singapore’s climate on fashion, the future of retail and the importance of staying independent.
Tim: What made you choose COMO Dempsey to set up DSM in Singapore?
Adrian: It’s synergy, it’s accident. It wasn’t planned. We don’t plan anything. We didn’t plan New York. But the subject came up and we visited the site and we thought, this is really cool because it’s against what Singapore is about. We thought we had the chance to bring something that was an alternative idea for Singapore and we really believed in the development of COMO Dempsey.
Tim: DSM consciously designs each store differently, according to the brand’s kachikan, or sense of values.
Tim: What is the balance that goes into building a new store when taking into account local tastes and history?
Adrian: It’s a very instinctive thing. When Rei designs the interior, she takes into account the feeling of the place, the atmosphere. It’s almost something spiritual. It’s a feeling, it’s an instinct. So here, it feels like a resort. And also the nature of the building is the high ceiling, you see? Human beings appreciate height more than width. There’s the hut, there’s the jewelry, there’s classic things we have in every single Dover Street, but in every single one, it’s somehow different. It’s taking all of the elements of what makes a DSM but adapting it to the building and then to the surroundings.
Tim: Singapore only has one season. Does that effect the collections you bring into Dover Street?
Adrian: Not really, no. I mean, it’s freezing in Singapore in the buildings, right? So, we don’t take any notice. Even when Rei designs collections, she’s not worrying about spring, summer, fall, winter. Some countries it’s cold when we start bringing spring/summer. What does that mean? Do you bring in T-shirts in January in New York when it’s -50?
Tim: That’s true.
Adrian: And coats. We need coats in Singapore in July because it’s freezing inside the buildings. We don’t really take into account seasons. It’s the system. The fashion system is very rigid and we just ignore it. But you know, Singapore people are very internationally-minded, and they travel a lot.
Tim: So, specialty independent retailers have experienced a comeback in the U.S. because they’re able to cater to specific customers and desires. As an independent retailer yourself, how do you see this evolving on a global scale?
Adrian: We’re not pundits, we’re not prophets about how things are gonna develop. This is what we do and we have the confidence to believe that this is an alternative way for people to shop. We felt the system was becoming a bit boring. Every shop was the same in every city. I think we’ve had a big influence on people and people are realizing that you can succeed in the kind of alternative way of doing things. It doesn’t have to be the same corner in every shop in every airport. We believe in that community and the human touch, the human contact. We don’t believe that retail brick-and-mortar will ever disappear.
Tim: So, you’ve never had investors.
Tim: And you choose your own pace, the way you grow.
Tim: What made you decide to open two new stores — in L.A. as well as Singapore?
Adrian: Again, L.A. just came up. The landlord is a friend and so he said, “What about the arts district?” We had plans to develop the American market and this just came up. It’s in another area, and nobody’s there and we had a good deal. We didn’t plan. It’s not in the five-year plan. We don’t know where the next one’s gonna be.
Tim: That’s amazing. What do you think are the business tenets that have got you to the place where you are now and able to sustain authentic and genuine growth?
Adrian: I think it’s really believing in people’s individualism and need to express themselves in a different way. I think people are tired of being told what to do. That’s very strong with the very big luxury groups and with their kind of media and the advertising. Everybody thinks that they have to get that bag or they have to look like this. But we would like to give benefit of the doubt to people to say that maybe they want to choose themselves. We like to give them the chance to express themselves in their own way.
We’ve never had investors because it kind of for us takes away the freedom of action. So we think it’s better to be independent. It took a long time. Dover Street in London, the first one, it took five years for people to get into it.
Tim: How have you seen the luxury market and consumer evolve over the past ten years? It seems DSM succeeds in an area that older retailers and luxury brands are struggling with, which is trying to court a younger consumer while maintaining its long-term fans.
Adrian: That’s right. That’s what they’re trying to do. But some of them are succeeding very well. But there’s all cases. Some people are doing really well in China. Some people are not doing well in China. Some people grew too quickly and now they’re cutting back. Some people do it more carefully. There’s not one thing that’s happening. The world is very complicated. People are complicated, deep people. If there was one formula, everybody would do it and everybody would succeed.
Tim: Have you seen a change in the way people in the fashion industry, for example, how they spend money or how they follow trends, that kind of thing?
Adrian: I think with the developing markets, more and more people are following the trends. But in some of the developed markets, people are tired of those trends and wanting to have alternatives and wanting to be more free in what they do and how they buy. There’s everything. We need Gap, we need Uniqlo, we need Louis Vuitton. We need all these things to cater to all the different tastes of people at their different levels of development. Where we are maybe, but I don’t like to underestimate the Chinese market. Just because it’s massive and it’s so interesting, it doesn’t mean they all want the same thing. They want to have alternatives and choices. But it’ll always be for the minority. We’re never gonna be liked by everybody. We’re not going to be understood by everybody, and that’s totally fine.
Tim: That’s what’s special about DSM.
Adrian: Yeah. Thank you.