Window dressing at London's Dover Street Market

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It has a pioneering approach to mixing art and fashion, and London's Dover Street Market emporium isn't afraid to put rising stars in the frame, says Rebecca Gonsalves

In fashion, the balance between art and commerce is precarious at the best of times, but one designer whose revolutionary retail strategy has only served to reinforce her position as a true visionary is Rei Kawakubo. The Comme des Garçons designer's multi-brand London emporium Dover Street Market remains a byword for what is exciting, interesting and covetable in the industry.

Sprawling over six floors, the store is housed in a Georgian building in Mayfair, on a road on which art galleries and offices jostle alongside an increasing number of boutiques such as McQ, Acne and APC. A perfectly orchestrated version of this mish-mash is part of the store's appeal – elegant designs sit next to avant garde, designers featured range from the established to emerging. Every season a biannual process called tachiagari sees the store close for several days, during which time brands rejuvenate their own spaces to house new-season merchandise, film and theatre designers create work for the shared spaces, and artworks are installed.

This eclectic, art-led, approach ensures that the store is constantly evolving: “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 mixing up and coming together of different kindred souls who all share a strong personal vision,” Kawakubo says of her ground-breaking approach.

Indeed, in contrast to most fashion stores, the windows of Dover Street Market serve as a gallery space for site-specific installations created by designers and artists who are given absolute freedom with the space. This Friday, the latest installation, by young London-based designer Phoebe English, will be revealed.

English is understandably excited about this invitation when I meet her at her east London studio, where she is working on a large-scale construction inspired by an apron-skirted dress from her spring/summer 13 collection. “It's really exciting to work in a different medium, a different space and without a body being there,” says English, who won the L'Oréal Professional Creative Award for her MA collection on graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2011.

“Dover Street Market was our first stockist. When I graduated after winning the L'Oréal prize I felt a bit swept along by all the attention. The plan was to go away and make some new work, to be as quiet and invisible as possible. I didn't have any grand plans for that collection, then Dover Street Market picked it up which was just incredible. It meant a lot to Rose [Easton, English's business partner] and me – it gave us the confidence to launch the label and register our company. Really Dover Street Market was the beginning of everything.”

“[Phoebe] offered a new and interesting perspective,” says Dickon Bowden, vice-president of Dover Street Market, of the decision to buy her work. “It is always important to be bringing new creations, new opinions and new perspectives to everything we do. We have always sought to nurture and present new and emerging designers.”

For English, this is certainly a big deal – she admits that feeling at home in the store is a dream come true, and one that she had never contemplated as a shy student: “At Central Saint Martins, in the first year, you have a project where you go and visit all the shops in London. I remember going to Dover Street Market and being so intimidated by this amazing establishment. I don't think I could get further than the doormat.” English looks back with humour: “I felt so dishonest going in there just to look around and not being a customer. It's so funny, I go in there now and it's such a different experience.”

For her window display English, whose studies focused on knitwear and textiles, has created a large orb of blue glass beads that will be suspended from the ceiling by a single wire. “I wanted something that looked as though it was floating or hovering – a lunar orb. The textiles we're using are all glass and we found that during the [spring/summer 13] show you got a really great reflection of the show lights while the girls were in motion. We're hoping that the light will sort of sparkle across the surface.”

There is something ephemeral about English – a sense of fragility emanates from her wide eyes, softly spoken voice and messily pinned platinum hair. Indeed, it seems that if it were not for the intervention of her business partner, her brand might never have got off its feet, let alone become such a rapidly growing success story. “Rose is just incredible, there's no way I would be able to do this without her,” English says of her confident colleague.

“She was my first ever customer – she ordered a dress from my MA collection for her birthday. I had to move everything out of Central Saint Martin's after six years of studying there, so I piled my studio into my little bedroom and was working out of that. I got this email – I'm not very good with correspondence so I didn't reply, and she sent another, and after a week I replied: 'I really don't know if you want one of these dresses, it's not going to be comfortable to wear.' She replied saying 'Yes, of course I want it.' We were doing her fitting and she surveyed this scene of disarray and said 'I think you need some help here.' A week later we went for a drink and that's how it all happened. She's my friend, my business partner and my creative collaborator. I can be steely but that's not natural – we have very different personalities which complement each other really well.”

“Phoebe's personality is so incredibly different to my own,” Easton agrees. “Making that dual partnership work is interesting. We always balance each other out and push each other. There are a lot of people who are creating dresses that are very formulaic – zip it up and you're in that outfit and become a version of that design, and that designer. All the clothes that Phoebe makes are very much influenced by the wearer – you interpret them, you wear them and they become a part of you.

“That's really important to us – how women can interpret it themselves – that's a really exciting thing to watch develop.”

News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Sustainability Manager

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

    Graduate Sustainability Professional

    Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

    £100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

    C# Developer

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client is lo...

    Day In a Page

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor