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
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
Arts and Entertainment
James Dean on the set of 'Rebel without a Cause', 1955
photographyHe brought documentary photojournalism to Tinseltown, and in doing so, changed the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Latest stories from i100
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

    C++ Quant Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

    Java/Calypso Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

    SQL Developer

    £500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

    Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

    Day In a Page

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing