It’s one of – if not the – most anticipated retail experiences to hit our shores in years, and trying to lock down and report on what exactly it would mean for shoppers has been a long process. And it’s not just because of the usual delays that come with most boutique openings.
This is Dover Street Market, or DSM for short, the multi-disciplinary, multi-label concept store created by Rei Kawakubo and her husband/company president Adrian Joffe. When it launched 13 years ago, on the posh yet fusty London street from which it gets its name, it disrupted all fashion retail conventions.
It certainly wasn’t the first high-end multi-label concept space. That honour is better suited to Milan’s 10 Corso Como and Paris’ Colette, both founded in the ’90s and still revered for their own idiosyncratic approaches to blending fashion, design and lifestyle. But if 10 Corso Como is cosily eclectic, and Colette achingly trendy, DSM is radical and unpredictable, with a proclivity to combine extremes. In other words, it is “Comme” (to use the name of Kawakubo’s label as an adjective), which also means it’s intensely esteemed and equally enigmatic.
Word that Singapore would be getting its own outpost – the fifth in the world after London, Tokyo, New York and a franchise operation in Beijing – first got out in the local papers in December 2015. The venture would be a collaboration with homegrown luxury multi-label retailer Club 21.
True to the DSM spirit, its location has no doubt added to its hype: a colonial-style building within the new yuppie lifestyle enclave Como Dempsey on quaint Dempsey Hill. Then after that: nothing – not for months, before rumours of its slated opening date started spreading, only to be officiated, then realised, late last month.
It was only after multiple conversations that we were given permission to explore the site in early June, ahead of its recent opening, when it was still an empty shell. The architecture of a DSM store is partly what makes it a destination. The Dempsey address – devoid of the artful, installation-like displays DSM is know for – was an expansive, light-soaked, single-storey space with a soaring 10m-high ceiling. It could have passed off as a church, one to be regenerated by Kawakubo – she’s behind the store design.
Also adding to the singular mystique of any DSM is its staff. At the other branches, their preternatural ability to be walking DSM billboards has received much press. Joining us on our visit were Jenny Ji and Kai Evill, buyer and special projects executive respectively of DSM Singapore.
Both previously part of the London store, they weren’t allowed to go on record (the company has a strict policy that only Joffe or vice-president Dickon Bowden can give interviews), but their distinctive air said enough. DSM staff reportedly get to dress any way they want, and both wore Comme des Garcons as effortlessly as off-duty models wear skinny jeans and tank tops.