Rei Kawakubo's Dover Street Market opens on Saturday with exclusive collaborations

Edgy multi-label concept store Dover Street Market launches in Dempsey on Saturday, offering exclusive and limited-edition products of tie-ups with well-known designers

The highly anticipated Dover Street Market (DSM) in Dempsey Road will open its doors to the public on Saturday.

The edgy multi-label concept store, conceived by Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo and her husband Adrian Joffe, spreads across 12,325 sq ft, taking up most of Block 18 in Tanglin Village.

The Singapore outlet will be the fourth DSM in the world, following stores in fashion capitals London, New York and Tokyo.

The outlet here will launch with more than 25 brands, several new to market. It will also have a revolving door of exclusive merchandise and limited-edition collections - many the result of tie-ups with well-known designers.

It will open with more than 10 new-to-Singapore collaboration collections, including those with labels such as Italian luxury brand Gucci, sportswear label Nike and American streetwear brand Anti Social Social Club. Shoppers will also find coveted labels such as French label Vetements and The Row by famous twins Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen - brands which do not currently have stores in Singapore.

There will also be Singapore-only apparel, such as a Dover Street Market Singapore T-Shirt by renowned Russian fashion designer and photographer Gosha Rubchinskiy, as well as a collaboration collection between DSM Singapore and Peaceminusone, a streetwear label by K-pop superstar G-Dragon.

Apart from these offerings, the store is expected to inject a fresh spin on retail in Singapore.

Similar to how other DSM outlets operate, labels at the outlet here will overhaul their spaces twice a year - in January and July. Each label designs its own space with guidance from Kawakubo.

Such a gallery-esque concept has led to imaginative displays, as well as installations of sculpture and art.

British designer label J W Anderson's space at DSM London last year had clothing collections hanging from a colourful children's playground. Now, a large dinosaur skeleton made of metal resides on the second floor. Over at DSM Ginza in Tokyo, a life-size elephant sculpture looms over customers.

Speaking to The Straits Times in an e-mail interview, Mr Joffe, DSM's president and Comme des Garcons chief executive, says that the creative concept is "the guiding principle of Dover Street Market".

"It's the DNA. It's what we set out to do. We wanted to create a new exciting retail experience, constantly evolving, sharing our space with like-minded creative people," he says, adding that DSM will work with Singapore designers.

When asked how the brand curates its items, he says: "It's instinct and experience, personal taste and simple luck.

"There is no defined process. (But) of course we take into account the local market."

Work on the space was still ongoing when The Straits Times visited the site on Tuesday. Protective film was plastered over many of the store's wide glass panel walls, the interior looked largely empty and work tools were strewn on the floor.

First opened in London in 2004, Dover Street Market sells Comme des Garcons and other luxury brands such as Balenciaga, Celine, Thom Browne, Valentino, Proenza Schouler, Lanvin and Raf Simons. It expanded to Tokyo in 2006, then opened in Manhattan in New York in 2013.

The stores - with their approach of bringing together cult fashion brands, coveted streetwear pieces and exclusive high-end tie-ups in a constantly evolving space - have become fashion destinations and a tourist draw.

DSM's opening here will complete Tanglin Village's new lifestyle quarter Como Dempsey - a dining and retail complex by Como Lifestyle, a subsidiary of local fashion doyenne Christina Ong's Club 21. The complex, which occupies Blocks 17 and 18, has been opening in stages since last year. Tenants include local Peranakan restaurant Candlenut and The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar by world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Mr Joffe is confident that DSM Singapore will pull in the crowds despite its location, away from the main Orchard Road shopping strip. He says: "We would not do it if we were pessimistic."

The 63-year-old, who met Kawakubo, 74, when they were both working in Tokyo in the 1980s, married the media-shy designer in 1992. He is usually the voice of the brand while she remains an elusive icon that does not speak to the press.

"Rei controls all the architecture, the interior designs, all the visual imagery and is the constant inspiration for all we do. The DSM teams and I take care of the rest as best we can," says Mr Joffe.

Retail experts are cautious about forecasting success so early in the game. With the retail industry plagued by a drop in tourist spending and competition from e-commerce and overseas shopping destinations, any new retail venture will face challenges, they say.

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, thinks that the store will have a tough time in its first few years.

"It's an out-of-the-way location relative to the better connected luxury shopping outlets on Orchard Road and at Marina Bay Sands. This may be a bit of a deterrent to the luxury goods shopper. The Dempsey area is also not particularly touristy."

He suggests bringing in the famed Rose Bakery, found in other DSM locations, to help pull in visitors. Regular events such as workshops and fashion shows could also be held there, he says.

Fashion consultant David Wong, 53, says the high price points at the store and its niche appeal are points of concern. He says: "I'm confident that the store will be interesting and I love that it is coming to Singapore. But because it is a niche market, it means that those who love fashion will have to put their money where their mouth is and support the store for it to survive."

Mr Samuel Tan, course manager of diploma in retail management at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Business, is more optimistic. The outlet, he says, is a cult-label one-stop shop with an attractive concept and quality items that justify the higher prices.

"Generally, if shoppers are well informed of the brand and product offerings, they will be able to accept the price points. On top of that, DSM's overall customer shopping experience and the convenience of getting these products from one store make it more satisfying for shoppers."

Shoppers here are excited.

Tattoo artist Bernice Chua, 28, who has been to DSM in London and Ginza, says she is looking forward to checking out the Singapore store. "I went to the store in Ginza a few years ago and I remember there was a huge statue of an ant in the store. Every DSM is different and so much more than just a shop. I definitely will visit the one here."

The bachelorette, a part-time lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts, says she hopes that the outlet will inspire the local fashion scene.

"I hope it helps to make Singapore more creative. Hopefully the store will expose people to a different kind of retailing and boost the industry here."

10 things to look out for in the store

1. Studded jacket with embroidery from the Gucci x DSM capsule collection, price not available

2. Vintage style T-shirt from the Nike x DSM line, price not available

3. Cotton gabardine single-breasted three-button suit jacket and suit pants, $1,300. Made exclusively for Comme des Garcons and Supreme

4. Sneakers from the Anti Social Social x Vans x DSM collection, price not available

5. Area code cap, $80, from Nine One Seven

6. Fila sneakers, $200, from the Gosha Rubchinskiy x DSM collection

7. Geometric ring from Repossi, price not available

8. 100 per cent cotton long-sleeved T-Shirt, $90, from Know Wave

9. Embroidered tartan bag from the Gucci x DSM capsule collection, price not available

10. Pearl earcuff from Sophie Bille Brahe, price not available

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2017, with the headline 'Street smart'. Print Edition | Subscribe