Founded by Rei Kawakubo of Japanese label Commes des Garcons in 2004, Dover Street Market is more of a designer boutique slash art gallery than an actual market. It’s so-called because individual concessions, or ‘stalls,’ are spread over five floors, occasionally interspersed with art works you can buy. Cooler than Selfridges and edgier than Browns, but just as expensive, DSM is where rich arty types come to splash their cash, and where art students come to window shop.
On the shop floor
Taking another cue from the art world, every six months the entire store is closed and the space is re-curated with new collections and brands, a tactic the Japanese call ‘tachiagri’ or ‘new beginnings.’ As such, the décor has an intentionally temporary look: scaffolding and bare timber section the concrete shop floor; what looks like a red Portaloo is actually a changing room.
On my visit, I started in the basement and noticed that the atmosphere seemed to get livelier the higher I ascended. Compared to the calm of the ground floor, where a carrousel of fragrances sits alongside cabinets of fine jewellery (and at £18,000 for a necklace you can tell why it’s confined behind glass), the third floor, womenswear, seemed positively bustling. On the fourth, tempting smells wafted from the packed Rose bakery café, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the nearby clothing would smell the same when you got it home.
Cake and coffee aside, with seemingly endless Commes des Garcons sub-brands dispersed throughout the store, at times it felt too much like this was the label’s flagship and I longed for more independent designers. Some of the own-brand ranges were too avant-garde for my liking, but this is truly a cult label with a loyal customer base of fashion-forward fanatics. Plus, I couldn’t fault the main womenswear selection: racks of Nina Ricci and Lanvin frocks were within easy reach of glittering Ferragamo shoes and Givenchy bags, and it was all beautifully merchandised. The same can be said for the whole store. While the kooky art installations (specimen jars, medical models and the like) give DSM plenty of individuality, they never detract from the product on sale.
Service with a smile?
On the lower floors staff seemed to outnumber customers, so there was no shortage of help available. This is the sort of shop that people might be too intimidated to even enter, but I was greeted politely on arrival and thanked as I left. Apart from that I was left to my own devices – I’m pretty certain the shop girls knew I wasn’t really in the market for any £4000 coats anyway.
My verdict: 8/10
Edgy, arty and well-presented, DSM makes a refreshing change from overwhelming and overcrowded designer department stores. If you can afford it, it’s worth every penny.
Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover Street, London W1S 4LT. doverstreetmarket.com.