The Container Store

Rei Kawakubo curates a new kind of shopping experience at Dover Street Market

Sometimes, as the saying goes, the package is more import-ant than the present itself. Home to some of the world’s most innovative fashion, London’s Dover Street Market is a cur-ious package. Conceived by Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons founder, The Container Store is one of many trans-ient creative “exhibits” in the Mayfair district. Interesting materials are integral to its shopping experience: you’ll find the cash register in a corrugated metal and scrap wood hut; vitrines displaying bell jars and taxidermied squirrels (these are also for sale) are littered throughout.

Seasonally, Kawakubo invites designers to peddle their wares in a designated space of the store, with an implicit encouragement to create something new. The results have positioned Dover Street Market as both an incubator for emerging arts and an innovation engine in haute couture having inspired, for example, Alber Elbaz’s avant-garde bridalwear, “Collection Blanche.” In the same space a year later, on the opposite end of the culture spectrum, Henry Holland curated “Barbie World,” inviting the likes of Gareth Pugh and Jeremy Scott to pay life-sized tribute. This fall, industrial design wunderkind Marc Newson, most recently noted for designing the cabin of the A380 double-decker super jumbo jet for the Australian airline Qantas, will create a knitwear line for urban staple G-star RAW.

Launched mostly in-house at Dover Street Market, Comme des Garçons’ laundry list of collaborations has grown substantially in the past few years to include Lacoste, Moncler, and Vuitton, Brooklyn-based graffiti artist KAWS, and perhaps most unexpectedly, Speedo.

Kawakubo’s interest in collaboration is not unique to Dover Street Market. Her earliest catalogues and catwalks brought together noted Japanese artists and writers, movie stars and public personalities. In 1997, she and her protégé, Martin Margiela, made an unprecedented choice to combine their spring ‘98 runway shows—which, as she explained in the program, she believed “provided a kind of added tension and risk which is crucial to the creative process.” Further, she adds that, “I hope that our belief in the importance of creation will be more strongly felt due to the impact of the simultaneous expression of our similar values.”

Kawakubo’s vision is present throughout Dover Street Market: pieces of Comme de Garcons’s austere modern fur-niture informally interact with the work of the other artists and designers on every floor, and there are semi-permanent homes for its panoply of sub-labels (Homme, Homme Deux, Homme Plus, Shirt, etc.).

Kawakubo’s most recent undertaking, a line of achromatic basics called BLACK, launched simultaneously in Dover Street and as a global “guerrilla project.” Using raw urban spaces—a former bookstore in Berlin, a 1950’s pharmacy in Helsinki—as pop-up stores, Kawakubo continues to explore the creative potential of beautiful, unexpected containers.

– Claire Stapleton