Dover Street Market Ginza: a bazaar concept

by Danielle Demetriou

Special To The Japan Times

Twisting white poles. Wooden tree sculptures. Metal cages. Giant insects. And yes, an elephant.

This may not sound like the standard decor of a fashion shop, particularly in the upmarket Ginza district of Tokyo. But Dover Street Market, the concept store created by Comme des Garcons, has never been bound by convention.

This month, Dover Street Market Ginza opened its doors in a brand-new six-story space that forms part of the renovated Komatsu Department Store, a landmark that dates back six decades.

It was in 2006 that Dover Street Market first opened in London, instantly winning armies of loyal fans due to its eclectic fusion of fashion and art, combined with carefully curated collections.

Since then, the popular concept store has appeared fleetingly in Tokyo in the form of temporary pop-up shops, but now it is here to stay in this new international flagship home.

The Dover Street Market is one a string of retail projects that appear to be revitalizing the shopping scene in Ginza, an area which is perhaps more famous for its historic department stores than for avant-garde concept outlets.

The creative driving force behind Dover Street Market is undoubtedly Rei Kawakubo, the iconic Japanese designer behind Comme des Garcons, who describes applying a philosophy of “beautiful chaos” to the concept store.

The task of implementing such a creative venture in the confines of a conventional office building in a traditional district of Tokyo was not without its challenges, according to Kawakubo.

Her solution? To commission 10 artists, designers and architects to create artworks and installations across the space in order to enliven the interiors and break down the boundaries between gallery and shop.

And so the gleaming white space is not only home to handpicked fashion collections — from A Bathing Ape to Balenciaga — but it also houses collaborations exclusive to the Ginza outlet (the vending machines selling T-shirts are a favorite).

Also scattered around the store are a number of unexpected creations. Among them, a tree-like wood installation by Paris-based Coudamy Design that spans the ceilings, trompe-l’oeil murals and oversized insect sculptures by Michael Howells, and a large elephant created by Stephanie Quayle for the Louis Vuitton space on the first floor.

This is not to mention the white, tilted spinning-top-like poles that surround the escalators, created by the only Japanese artist involved: Kyoto-based Kohei Nawa, whose imaginative works, such as his glass-beaded stag’s heads, and inventive interiors have won him much critical acclaim.

“The most important challenge was how to deal with the domineering existence of the escalators in the middle of each floor, and turn it into something positive,” says Kawakubo.

“I did this by working with artist Kohei Nawa, who created the slanted, breathing pillars that surround both sides of the escalators throughout the building, and by designing either side of the escalators to be one space, one feeling. The escalators feel like an arrow piercing through the floors, rather than an obstruction between both sides of the floors.

“Also crucially important to the design concept was breaking down the barriers between men and women, luxury and street brands, expensive and affordable.”

Judging by the experimental installations, the edgy fashion collections — along with the crowds of creatives who thronged the store in its opening few days — it’s clear that if anything is going to redefine the Ginza shopping experience, Dover Street Market Ginza stands as good a chance as any.