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Friday, Sept. 8, 2006

COUNTER CULTURE

COMME DES GARCONS

Dover Street shop storms into Tokyo


When it comes to revolutionary retail concept stores in Japan, there's no getting away from Tokyo's Aoyama district. That area's latest major opening comes from none other than Japan's epoch-making fashion house Comme des Garcons.

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The London store manager of Dover Street Market, Dickon Bowden (left), with set designer Michael Howells (center) -- who designed parts of the interior of the Tokyo branch -- and punk-era icon Michael Costiff who has a space featuring communist memorabilia (below) and ethnic knickknacks. MARTIN WEBB PHOTOS
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For the benefit of the fashion unsavvy, Comme, as it is known by adherents abroad (gyaruson in Japan), is heralded as having forever changed the way the world perceives what we wear, sending the Euro-centric, figure-hugging fashion world into a flat spin and paving the way for dozens of other conceptual designers catering to the chin-stroking set intent on shrouding themselves with deconstructed garments in any color as long as it's black.

The Comme des Garcons flagship store in Aoyama is a favorite destination for tourists in Tokyo, as is the nearby boutique it operates in partnership with Milanese megastore 10 Corso Como.

Since 2004, a few hundred meters down the road, it has been operating in what it refers to as a Temporary Store, the direction of which has been entrusted to a revolving door of luminaries.

It began as the military-themed Happy Army Store, directed by designer Junya Watanabe, and went on to be reincarnated in six-month intervals by Sarah Lerfel of Paris superboutique Colette and Belgian artist Jan de Cock. Last week, it became known as Dover Street Market Tokyo.

The store is a miniature version of the six-floor supershop named after the thoroughfare in London's Mayfair district where its parent store is located. There, one-of-a-kind fashion, art and design objects created by Hedi Slimane of Dior Homme, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin and Belgian menswear designer Raf Simons -- all of whom were personally selected by Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kawakubo -- can be perused, pondered and even possibly purchased.

The Aoyama offshoot is just one tenth of the size of its giant parent, but the two interiors share much in common. Both were created in collaboration with film and theater set designer Michael Howells, who at the Tokyo launch said that "curiosity" was the watchword for his eclectic design.

"In the West, everything tends to be very heavily branded," he explained. "But here shops force you to make up your own mind, and that's the philosophy behind both interiors: They force you to form your own opinions."

Like the original space, the Kawakubo-curated portion of the Tokyo store features a shed made from corrugated iron and driftwood which houses the register. Visitors venturing up the concrete staircase will pass under a spiky chandelier made from twisted fluorescent tubes by artist Yuichi Higashionna, and upon completing their ascent will be confronted with a pink and black mural by illustrator Maki Kahori.

One highlight here is a space curated by cult London figure Michael Costiff, who with his wife, Gerlinde, hosted the legendary club night "Kinky Gerlinky" during London's heady punk heyday.

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The little corner features pieces from his vast archive of outlandish costumes, as well as T-shirts and quirky objects inspired by African tribal patterns and communist memorabilia.

Other offerings include pieces of arty headgear from master of scandalous millinery Stephen Jones, vintage sunglasses from Cutler and Gross, punk-art jewelry from Erickson Beamon, affordable fashion from the Topshop Unique line and antiques specially selected by Edinburgh-based dealer Emma Hawkins -- and all this in addition to a carefully edited collection of pieces from the Comme des Garcons lines.

At the store's launch, Paris-based Comme des Garcons president and husband of designer Kawakubo, Adrian Joffe, was confident of replicating the store's London success in Japan. "In London, people didn't know what to make of it at first. Fans of our label were a bit put off to see so many things from other designers, and others were just baffled. But here, we're much better known [than in the U.K.], so getting people to understand the concept should be much easier -- it hasn't been featured in any media yet, and still there were 30 people lining up outside this morning."

Such is the extent of the cult following for gyaruson in Japan. The brand's impact on the world of fashion is beyond question, and with its temporary store concept, its influence on the way we shop may yet prove to be just as profound.



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