We knew it would be an event, but we weren't totally sure that we would see a line stretching all the way around the block of people eagerly awaiting entry when Comme des Garçons' Dover Street Market opened its doors for the first time on Saturday morning. The Shophound groaned, but begrudgingly queued up and felt a little bit better when we noticed that the president of Estée Lauder was a couple of people behind us. At least it was a high-class line, full of Comme des Garçons enthusiasts dressed specially for the occasion. A few minutes after 11 AM opening moment, however, we were relieved when a staffer came down the line to pull out anyone who wasn't waiting for a special Supreme limited edition release, and let us right into the store. So, the line really wasn't as bad as all that, but it made for a dramatic picture (below).
The question was whether or not this store could live up to the full year of anticipation for what was supposed to be New York's most exciting new store in some time? The answer depends on what excites you in a store. If you like a posh, plush shopping environment where things are clearly ordered, categorized easy to find, then you might be flummoxed by Dover Street Market's cerebral and occasionally surreal seeming set-up, but if you are the kind of shopper who likes to explore a store and searches for surprises, then the shop for you has arrived.
The key to enjoying DSM, is not to think too much or have a particular destiniation in mind, at least at first. The store is designed for wandering and discovery. Things start out looking logical and ordered on the first floor with the Rose Bakery, a jewelry and accessory section, and a three-month Louis Vuitton section under a wooden cage that will switch from men's to women's in Fesruary. Venture upstairs, however, and thing begin to take on a more free-form arrangement. There is no distinction between men's and women's designers, though some designers will put their men's and women's collections in different area. Customers are encourage to ignore such arbitrary distinctions, and much of the sales staff happily demonstrate the results of such thinking. If you are concerned about the proper gender requirements for wearing culottes, then keep moving up Lexington Avenue until you get to Bloomingdale's. You'll be happier there.
As promised, wood is the pervasive design element throughout the store, in all its forms, mostly unfinished. Rough wooden shacks placed in the middle of each floor serve as dressing rooms, and the whole place kind of smells faintly of a lumberyard, at least for now, while everything is new. Of course, some designers like Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and Thom Browne simply adapted their signature retail schemes to their sections, and seemed less exciting for it. Others took the opportunity to have some fun. Even hyper-controlling Prada decorated its intimate space with an unusual mural that seems inspired by the set from the recent Spring 2014 runway show rather than boilerplate Prada store interior. Vuitton's wooden cage resembles nothing found in its own boutiques, and fit in more with the spirit of the store even if its current offerings, a men's Spring collection featuring signature pieces with specially designed badges and appliqués designed by artist Terence Koh, falls on the more conservative side of things.
Odd surprises abound. Tucked into a corner we discovered what almost looked like a storage closet, but was actually the Good Design Shop offering a Muji-like selection of humble and practical items. Nearby, a display for Michael Costiff's World Archive offers a rotating selection of antiques and artifacts from faraway lands. We could go on and on describing each corner, but it won't compare your own visit. we spent about an hour inside, and still feel like there's plenty of stuff we missed, so we are looking forward to a return visit. Luckily, the staff was not terribly discouraging of photography (which will probably change soon), so have a look at the gallery at the top for just a few interesting views of the store, and plan a visit for yourself when you are in an adventurous shopping mood.
Dover Street Market New York 160 Lexington Avenue at 30th Street, Murray Hill/Kips Bay