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.”

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
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

    PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

    £450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

    Senior Fund Administrator - Edinburgh - £22 p/hr

    £20 - £22 per hour + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Fund Administrator, Top Four ...

    Nursery Nurse

    £7 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a better wo...

    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Functional Consultant

    £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A Microsoft Dynamics CRM...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on