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Will Dover Street Markets' big bet on independent fashion pay off?

Will Dover Street Markets' big bet on independent fashion pay off?
Will Dover Street Markets' big bet on independent fashion pay off?

 


PARIS A steady stream of visitors flooded the new Paris outpost of Dover Street Markets on Saturday afternoon, sending snippets of French, German, Italian, Japanese and Korean texts ricocheting into the sunny courtyard where prints by Paolo Roversi were wrapped around huge wooden cylinders.

Adrian Joffe, the retail guru behind it all, wondered how many of them would actually buy.

A lot of people see these massive pillars in the yard, they're curious, they come in, Joffe said. As for whether they will spend money, there is obviously no guarantee.

The Dover Street Market opened its doors in Paris on May 24 after years of delays. Owner Comme des Garons secured the lease for a historic mansion in the Marais district in late 2019, but hesitated to launch the avant-garde store during the pandemic, undermining tourist flows that generate significant sales for retailers in the French capital.

Instead, the company temporarily converted the space into a nonprofit cultural center that hosted art exhibitions, fashion shows, and dance performances from 2021 to 2023, a move that helped to generate enthusiasm around the space while guaranteeing a reduction in taxes and rents.

Organized wholesale model

By blending an ever-evolving selection of independent brands with ultra-profitable concessions for global luxury names, DSM's current fleet of stores (with locations in London, New York, Ginza, Los Angeles, Singapore and Beijing) has managed to succeed while other retail concepts, from Colette to Opening Ceremony, closed their doors.

But in Paris, a city already saturated with luxury boutiques and department stores, the group has broken with the concession model, moving more than ever towards the risky business of selling its own ready-to-wear purchases from independent brands.

Rei Kawakubo designed all the displays at Dover Street Market's new Paris location, eliminating brand concessions.
Rei Kawakubo designed all the displays at Dover Street Market's new Paris location, eliminating brand concessions.

The store's design, by Comme des Garons founder Rei Kawakubos, features a series of curved alcoves constructed with futuristic, sleek white displays, illuminated by light coming from the long-windowed 17th-century façade. Branded spaces are nowhere to be found, and products are mixed without regard to price, category or gender: A hand-distressed Comme des Garons blazer for $US3,622 ($3,934) is on display next to a pile of 80 t-shirts, at arm's length from a selection of 566 Egg ecru shirt dresses.

Twenty years after the first Dover Street opened, it seemed like the perfect time to take the next step and do something different. We decided to remove branded spaces completely, Joffe said. Kawakubo had the idea of ​​getting rid of all the design, so that it was the spaces that spoke rather than the brands.

The only global luxury names present are Prada, Miu Miu, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga, who seem to have judged that the coolness of being sold at DSM is worth selling in bulk, even though all of these brands have pulled out external sales. of their own retail networks in recent years. They appear just steps away from a corner filled with trade magazines, a section of upcycled deadstock skirts from Chopova Lowena, and a display of Duran Lantinks padded crop tops.

Other offerings include a wide selection of the Comme des Garons group's own brands, including Girl, Shirt, Junya Watanabe and Noir Kei Ninomiya. These in-house brands make up about 25 percent of the assortment on DSM sites, in addition to items from runway-hot newcomers like Vaquera and Weinsanto, both supported by DSM's brand development unit. The store also features creative designs from Setchu and Torishju, as well as skate-inspired concepts supported by the brand development unit like ERL and Sky High Farm Workwear.

A Rose bakery with an outdoor dining area opens onto the courtyard. An exhibition space in the basement is currently hosting a retrospective of Roversis photos of Comme des Garons creations, displayed on a giant round wall as an extension of the installation of wooden columns upstairs.

Risky business

With global luxury brands and sports sneakers taking up just a fraction of the space, DSM's Paris location sees the retailer turning more heavily than ever toward niche fashion at a time when the outlook for independent brands and the multi-brand retailers that sell them are getting bigger and bigger. weak.

Major online retailer MatchesFashion went into administration earlier this year, while luxury market Farfetch narrowly avoided collapse by selling to South Korea's Coupang.

Meanwhile, independent labels have suffered blow after blow. In recent days, British brand The Vampires Wife announced its closure, citing upheaval in the wholesale market, as did American brand Mara Hoffman, while Roksanda narrowly escaped administration by selling to The Brand Group.

Adrian Joffe of DSM. Thomas Lohr for BoF.

Joffe has nevertheless chosen to swim against the tide, betting that the group's increasingly unique positioning as a destination for new and niche products will stimulate demand. DSM is focusing on independent fashion at a time when department stores have mostly increased the amount of space devoted to luxury brand concessions and many luxury brands themselves are struggling to differentiate their products, stocking increasingly generic designs.

The hunger of [independent fashion] It’s definitely out there, I feel it,” Joffe said. The biggest challenge small designer brands face is that they don't have the platform, it's as simple as that, he continued. Stores and showrooms cost money, so where are they supposed to show their products, other than social media? How can they position themselves in a busy world?

Fixing Indie Fashion

The other big challenge that Joffe sees for small creators: the surge in prices which limits their potential market. Today, for many young designers, their prices are ridiculous and it doesn't have to be, he said. You don't have to multiply your costs by five like the big brands do. (He attributes the prices not only to rising production costs, but also to a system that fails to emphasize one of the most fundamental principles of entrepreneurship: creating products at a price that people are willing to pay).

Joffe has strived to offer more accessible prices in the new Parisian store. As momentum for global streetwear brands subsides, it has also sought to continue tapping into demand for tribal and community proposals by stocking ultra-local concepts. For example, DSM Paris' inaugural selection includes a collaboration between Comme des Garons SHIRT and Jah Jah, an African vegan restaurant co-founded by multidisciplinary creative director Daqui Gomis.

He brought his community; yesterday, people were lining up to buy, Joffe said. The prices were right, they were very reasonable, and he still had his decent margin.

A yarn sales area designed by Rei Kawakubo for DSM Paris.
A wire store window designed by Rei Kawakubo for DSM Paris.

Niche brands can of course still succeed in selling more premium items, but the price must be supported by a special product, Joffe said. [Undercover designer] Jun Takahashi made us these very, very worn jeans and they weren't cheap at all, and we sold all eight pairs the first day.

People want authenticity, he says.

Opening performance

DSM Paris is targeting a turnover of 12 million euros from the first full year of activity and aims to achieve profitability of around 15 million euros in the second year. (Experience has shown that this result is hardly guaranteed: previous sites took 3 to 5 years to reach the break-even point.)

While the Marais district has struggled to establish itself as a luxury shopping destination, a mid-2010s initiative to develop a luxury men's clothing street beneath the BHV department store closed during the pandemic, its reputation as a hub for stylish visitors has continued to grow. Besides Uniqlo and Muji, the neighborhood is home to key art galleries like Marian Goodman, Perrotin and Thaddaeus Ropac, as well as some of Paris' most popular sidewalk cafes.

On its first day of operation, the store saw more than 500 conversions from 2,500 visitors to the complex, including the café and exhibition space, the company said. Opening Friday generated 75,000 sales, exceeding its budget of 40,000 by almost twice.

By Saturday afternoon, the store was overrun, with the corner selling sports sneakers appearing to generate the most sales.

It's a good start, Joffe said. It's a risk. But we know it's a risk worth taking.

Editor's note: This story was edited on May 29, 2024, 7:10 a.m. BST. A previous version of this story stated that Dover Street Market operated a store in Shanghai. This is incorrect. The retailer's flagship store in China is located in Beijing.

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