Fashion and retail mavericks Rei Kawakubo and her husband Adrian Joffe are birthing yet another creative company, one with the potential to dynamize the city of Paris — and transform the way fashion engages with communities and fosters culture in addition to commerce.
Known as Structure 35-37, the new entity will be dedicated to space management, community exchanges and event planning in various venues throughout Paris, including the grand 17th-century townhouse located at 35-37 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the Marais district.
WWD has learned that the Dover Street Market Paris SAS company has secured a long-term lease for the 3,500-square-meter hôtel particulier, and facilitated its first event there over the weekend: the digital fashion show and campaign shoot for French designer Victor Weinsanto, whose fledgling collection is being assisted by DSMP’s brand development arm.
DSMP is wholly owned by Comme des Garçons, but it doesn’t own the brands under its umbrella. Rather it helps nurture original products, and offers varying degrees of assistance encompassing brand development, production and distribution.
DSMP also has a retail division that operates the Dover Street Perfume Market — a pebble-shaped perfume bottle’s throw from the townhouse — and the new Dover Street Little Market next to the Comme des Garçons flagship in Paris that assembles all labels under its brand development arm: ERL, Rassvet, Vaquera, Honey F–king Dijon, Liberal Youth Ministry, Youths in Balaclava and Weinsanto.
It is understood that Kawakubo and Joffe plan to eventually open a Paris branch of Dover Street Market in the 35-37 building, adding another of their quirky multibrand retail emporiums defined by “beautiful chaos,” a melange of Comme des Garçons and other luxury, streetwear, sneaker and jewelry brands, plus offbeat features such as hut-like cash wraps.
After opening the original Dover Street Market in London in 2004, the concept took off and spread to five other cities — Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Singapore and Los Angeles.
The Structure 35-37 division of DSMP promises to stretch fashion retailing in multiple new directions. Kawakubo and Joffe have pioneered with destination boutiques, “guerrilla stores” — their moniker for pop-ups selling past-season collections — pocket shops, “outposts” of Dover Street Market dedicated to single categories, and other formats.
Now Joffe, who will be leading this adventure with his team, is delving deeper into cultural programming and community outreach to also become a player in urban renewal and social betterment.
In fact, the Marais building is one of 23 sites designated by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo to help revitalize the city. Known as Paris RFP Réinventer Paris 1, the project was launched in 2015. DSMP is the only fashion and retail player in the initiative, in which developers refurbish landmark buildings for projects meant to advance the French capital’s reputation for creativity and innovation.
In an exclusive interview, Joffe described a will to help energize Paris — and reinvent Dover Street Market — in the post-coronavirus era with an approach that puts creativity and community engagement ahead of commerce, and one that stretches beyond a single physical location.
“It’s a new way of doing business, of which retail is only a part,” he said, rattling off a slew of possibilities, from literary and art happenings to techno parties and temporary residences for creative types. “I want to develop the Dover Street Market idea and ethos beyond a physical store and because, coincidentally, the building we have secured is part of a Paris-wide project, it seemed a good idea to take the already existing idea of all the DSM’s to create a community of creative and visionary people, all with something to say, and expand that idea beyond just the physical store. The notion of working close with the city of Paris to do something new, and invigorate the city was thus born.”
It is understood DSMP is already in discussions with top-tier luxury players, streetwear brands and young creatives to make full use of the grand 35-37 venue and other unique spaces in Paris, and possibly other cities.
Over the weekend, Weinsanto shot his collection video in one of the vast, raw concrete spaces in the grand building, and on Monday welcomed a slew of top editors and his old boss, Jean Paul Gaultier, to explain his “Les Courtesans” collection.
A second event at the storied building, known as l’Hôtel de Coulanges, is scheduled for March 13 for I Love You Moi Non Plus, an upstart project dedicated to preserving and cultivating the long and fruitful exchange between Britain and France in the post-Brexit era. Spearheaded by the events and communications agency Sabir, Somerset House and Dover Street Market, in partnership with l’Institut Français and France Culture, I Love You Moi Non Plus has invited amateur and professional artists to submit works expressing the relationship between the two countries.
Joffe, chief executive officer of Dover Street Market and president of Comme des Garçons International, declined to discuss specific timelines for opening a Paris branch of Dover Street Market. “This is the big unknown,” he demurred. “COVID-19 obliging, we hope sometime in 2022.”
To be sure, a Dover Street Market emporium would add further heat to the picturesque and trendy neighborhood, already home to the Paris branch of Supreme, concept store Merci, multibrand boutique The Broken Arm, plus a slew of blue-chip art galleries, including David Zwirner, Thaddaeus Ropac and Perrotin.
Joffe described Structure 35-37 as a work in progress.
“We’ve established a committee of outside thinkers, of professionals and artists in many fields to come together and we are in the process of defining the plan,” he explained. “We envisage playing our part in all Paris-wide events and celebrations.”
The plan is to work with local museums to do “hors les murs” exhibitions — ones beyond their main walls — and cooperate with applied arts school École Duperré.
Other possibilities include putting on concerts — from electronic to classical music — hosting fashion shows and launches; holding exhibitions; doing pop-up shops; renting out the space for shoots and filming; receiving artists in residence; sharing office space for special projects, and organizing poetry readings and conferences.
On Monday, Joffe led a visitor down to the sub-basement where workers were installing speakers in a vast room with parquet floors that could be used for performances and dance parties, for example.
According to Joffe, the idea of doing a big project in Paris, where Comme des Garçons International is headquartered and where Kawakubo has been showing her collections since the early 1980s, has been percolating for some time.
“We came across this building before the pandemic and we were already inspired to take the idea of Dover Street Market to the next level,” he said, allowing that the coronavirus crisis subconsciously played a role as it coincided with the year of negotiation for the lease.
“It promulgated us even further to thinking of how we could play a part in making the post-pandemic world a better place; how we could look at the future positively, resisting the fear of the uncertainty; how we need to look outward and not inward; how we can fight obscurantism and blind nationalism not to mention odious populism; how the world needs to be more than ever one world that works together; how to show in our small way that through creation and community exchanges, progress can be achieved,” said Joffe, who has been openly critical of “the disaster known as Brexit.”
“I concede this is a lofty aim, but I think the raised bar has necessitated taking bigger risks,” he added.
Ultimately, Joffe hopes that its event planning and community exchanges in Paris will filter back down through all of the company’s retail emporiums.
“Every Dover Street Market has endeavored to work closely with the local community,” he said, and finding out that the building was part of Anne Hidalgo’s vision of ‘Reinventer Paris’ was a godsend and only served to further inspire us,” he said. “Accidentally, coincidentally, serendipitously and synergistically — our favorite adverbs — it fits in perfect.”