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.”

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own