If you've ever caught yourself saying or thinking that New York's department stores have become too big, too bland, too same-old-same-old, then you need to schedule a visit to Dover Street Market as soon as possible. The original Dover Street Market opened in London (on Mayfair's Dover Street) in 2004 and was followed by locations in Tokyo and Beijing. The Manhattan store opened in December 2013, stirring much discussion among architecture and design fans as well as fashion obsessives.
Rei Kawakubo, the designer behind Comme des Garçons and the founder and creative director of the entire Dover Street Market enterprise, is quoted as saying, “I want to create a kind of market where various creators from various fields gather together and encounter each other in an ongoing atmosphere of beautiful chaos.” The phrase "beautiful chaos" is perfect: once inside the Market, which is housed in a circa-1908 neoclassical building complete with marble columns, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the avant-garde and often experimental (not to mention very high-priced) creations of dozens of designers. In addition, every wall and corner offers some kind of quirky art/design element that surprises and entertains the eye.
The overall effect is one of a contemporary art gallery, or seven floors of galleries-within-galleries; even the free-standing dressing rooms are collaged with colorful layers of decoration and found objects. It can be visual overload. So many details, so many juxtapositions! On the other hand, each floor is divided into numerous boutique areas that feel almost intimate, and many of the stylish young sales staff are disarmingly friendly.
What about shopping for fragrance here? You might have to consult the floor plan — the "perfume tower" is currently located on the 6th floor, but since the Dover Street Market reinvents itself every six months by rearranging its layout and bringing in artists to decorate the new spaces, that could change later in the year. A single industrial-looking shelving unit holds the entire Comme des Garçons Parfums collection — reminding us that this is, after all, Kawakubo's turf. You'll be free to sniff your way through the Incense series, the Green series, the Colognes, the various collaborations with Stephen Jones, Monocle, Daphne Guinness, Undercover and others, and much more, not to mention the Dover Street Market house fragrance.
Comme des Garçons has always been adept at producing fragrances that actually suit the brand's overall image; being inside Dover Street Market, surrounded by every available CdG clothing collection as well as the work of like-minded designers, can be a very satisfying immersive experience. Even if Kawakubo's vision doesn't mesh with your own tastes, Dover Street Market is a unique NYC shopping destination that provides an antidote to retail boredom.
Not to be missed: Allow time before or after your shopping for a visit to the first floor's Rose Bakery, where you can order tea or coffee, dessert, or lunch.
Details: Dover Street Market, 160 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10016; (646) 837-7750; website.
Nearby: The Ace Hotel (20 West 29th St.) features a "front desk store" selling on-trend lifestyle items; the adjacent Opening Ceremony (1190-1192 Broadway at 29th St. ) and Project 8 (22 West 29th St.) offer diverse mixes of clothing, design objects, gifts, and a few niche toiletries.
Further reading: This article in Architects Magazine discusses the store's architecture and design in detail (and includes many photos).
— images & report filed by Jessica.
See also: Perfume Shopping in New York City