Reinvention is art: the multifunctional sales space Dover Street Market

In the early days of the department store, Dover Street Market CEO Adrian Joffe, and husband of Rei Kawakubo, the mastermind behind Comme De Garçons, was wondering: “Can Dover Street Market leave Dover Street?” The answer was yes, and years later, it can be found in London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Los Angeles, Beijing and the French capital.

In Paris, as part of the French government’s plan to renew the city, he decided to experiment with a new format named ‘3537’, a multifunctional platform named after the address of its headquarters in the city, at the Hôtel de Coulanges in 35-37 Rue des Francs Bourgeois. The project features entertainment activities that blend with shopping experiences, with the goal of hosting music concerts, exhibitions, ballets and film screenings.

Radical thinking has always been part of the duo’s working method.  

Suffice to say how, in 1999, they chose to open a store in the Chelsea neighbourhood in New York, at a time when few galleries were busy settling in the area. 

Rei Kawakubo founded Comme des Garçons in 1969, and in 1981, its first Parisian show broke all the canons of contemporary aesthetics in a whirlwind of chaos and creation. South African by birth, Adrian Joffe, is part of the brand’s evolution. While searching for a new location for the Comme des Garçons flagship store, Joffe came across Dover Street, former home to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Initially, the idea was to acquire just the ground floor, but “why not take the whole building and host a large creative community?”, just like how it happened in Kensington Market, the dearest place to Kawakubo’s London heart, where she first found herself in the 1960s. Kensington was a bazaar of unprecedented contaminations that had fueled London’s underground culture in the decades before. Named ‘The Best Shop in the World’, DSM was the turning point of their careers. Four names joined for the creation of exclusive products for the launch of the concept store: Hedi [Slimane], Raf [Simons], Alber [Elbaz] and Azzedine [Alaïa].  Other watersheds were the arrival of Phoebe Philo’s iconic Céline collection in 2009, Nicolas Ghesquière’s first collection for Louis Vuitton in 2014, as well as Alessandro Michele’s fresh visions for Gucci in 2015. And those were just a few of the stages that led to the leap that in 2021 has opened new horizons.

“We give people freedom, but with a fair share of rules,” Joffe has repeatedly stated. 

Supervision at each shop is manic. Rei takes care of the group’s image, its shared spaces and the Comme brands, delegating other responsibilities to Adrian. “If she was only approaching the things she likes, we would have nothing. Rei likes people that work hard and have something to say. That’s the only selection criterion”. It is a department store that places the role of the salesperson and its training philosophy at the centre of its universe. The company structure is horizontal, strategically enlightened and aimed at sustainable growth.

“And do you find this job fun?” “Fun is not really the right word.” Joffe replies.  “It’s exciting. It’s what I do. There’s satisfaction in working. There are a lot of problems – with designers and their egos, the dynamics with Rei. It’s a nightmare, really, but it’s what keeps us going. There’s no progress without fight. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It also means thinking about the future. There will be a day when she’s gone. We have to think about it… But that’s another matter.”


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