When Rei Kawakubo’s retail concept Dover Street Market opened its inaugural store in London in 2004, the brick-and-mortar landscape had never seen anything like it. Since then, branches have opened in New York, Tokyo, and Beijing. The store, in its various incarnations, marks one of the few places where a new designer like Andrea Jiapei Li has her wares hanging near to those of established fashion stalwarts, or where a provocative installation by the stylist Andrew Richardson sits cheek-by-jowl with the hotly anticipated athleisure pieces from Nike x Sacai and the latest rare tomes from Idea Books. President and CEO Adrian Joffe spoke to the Cut about creating the kind of store that “ignored all the preconceived notions of how a store should be” and what his plans for its future might be.
When you opened the first Dover Street Market in London, what was your vision for the store? What vacancy in the retail landscape did you set out to fill? Were there plans to expand into other cities right away, or did that evolve later?
We wanted to create a new kind of retail experience, a kind of store that never existed before, that ignored all the preconceived notions of how a store should be, that dismissed the established rules of retail, that offered the customer a new and stimulating shopping experience that raised the spirits and excited the senses. A shop where creative energies could be shared and accidental synergies enjoyed. We didn’t consider filling any vacancy in the retail landscape. We just aimed to make a great new kind of store. There was no marketing research carried out. And as with everything we do, we do not plan so far in advance. We see how things go and keep open to every possibility and to evolve organically … We certainly didn’t expect to have four DSMs within ten years.
Carrying and, in some cases, hosting new designers is an important part of the Dover Street Market philosophy. Why is that so important to you and who are some of the talents you’ve been proudest to support over the years?
The initial concept was one of sharing a space, in a market kind of atmosphere, with all kinds of creative people who had a vision, and something to say … It’s the very essence of the idea of beautiful chaos that is the pillar of DSM. The list of people we are proud to share our space with is endless. We are basically proud and honored to have everybody we have.
The in-store installations are always changing, and you’ve worked with everyone from Ai Weiwei to Andrew Richardson to Palace Skateboards to Disney’s Frozen. How do you find these collaborators, and why is it important to you to change things up regularly?
Again, it is the concept and the idea. Creation by its very nature is constantly evolving, always changing. We are always on the lookout for new and strong people who have something interesting to say, and we also find many collaborators and co-conspirators by them approaching us.
What, for you, have been some of the most exciting events in the different store locations — e.g., people queuing up for a limited-edition collaboration, or an artist or designer coming to the store?
We make no value judgments, and hit parades of most exciting events. Every event we do is exciting because that is why we do them. We are just as happy if one person is excited or a thousand people are excited. Launching an unknown student designer like Joshua Walters, or doing an event space with Louis Vuitton, discovering new talents like Molly Goddard, Phoebe English, or Craig Green, to name just a very few, or working with established masters like Thom Browne or Azzedine Alaïa, giving a space to an unheralded young artist or having an exhibition with the most amazing world renowned Ai Weiwei, everything is of equal importance and each interdependent to the construction, composition and evolution of the store.
Looking ahead, are there any plans for another outpost of DSM? Are there cities or locations that appeal to you?
Offers and opportunities abound from all over the world, but it is very hard work and it has to feel right … At this moment we are happy with London, Tokyo, Beijing, and New York.