For Dover Street Market New York, its anti-department-store approach to multibrand retail relies on a flexible mix of merchandise and featured streetwear brands.
While the store resets inventory and displays twice a year in line with the fall and spring seasons, its annual calendar is packed with activity. The influx of streetwear brands represented throughout the 25,000-square-foot store’s eight floors means that Dover Street Market New York accommodates far more regular product drops than the industry is known for. For instance, it receives the same weekly drops for Supreme and Nike Lab at the same cadence as both of the brands’ retail stores. Then there’s the increased consistency of new capsule collections and collaborations, released regularly throughout the year. Finally, with the tendency of new-age brands like Vetements to ignore fashion’s existing calendar rules, Dover Street Market flips individual designer inventory in line with the designers’ schedules.
“[Dover Street Market] is meeting brands in the middle in terms of the setup of the store,” said Brady Donnelly, founder and managing director of the creative agency Hungry. “It’s supported a more nimble, self-expressive format for brands by giving them the creative space to control, not fitting them into a space. The regular drops and delivery are a way to support brands in a way that other retailers are not set up to do.”
The streetwear-heavy, fluid merchandising strategy is the blueprint at work behind every store location. Dover Street Market opened in London in 2004, and subsequently expanded to New York, Tokyo, Singapore and Beijing. (It will open a location in Los Angeles later this year.) Every brand sold in any location is approved by founder and Comme des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo. A small merchandising team for each location rounds out inventory buys, focusing on local, emerging designers in rotating displays and ready-to-wear edits of permanent designers, like Thom Browne, Simone Rocha and Balenciaga. Each store also carries all of the Comme des Garcons brand derivative lines, like Play, Homme and Junya Watanabe. Its model, with a singular creative vision and destination approach to in-store retail, more closely mirrors Opening Ceremony and Collette, a multibrand boutique in Paris that closed its doors in 2017.
Dover Street Market continues to localize inventory strategies for new store openings, leaning heavily into streetwear, and giving designer brands full control of their dedicated space. The New York store expanded in 2017 when it added a basement level for sneakers, T-shirt collections and other streetwear-inspired goods, along with a skate shop. Not only does the induction of more streetwear brands embrace the broader luxury industry’s embrace of the category, it’s also good for business. Entry-level purchases like a T-shirt, weekly drop lineups and more menswear-heavy brands bring in more customers, more often.
“If you’re a streetwear brand and you’re choosing to sell in Barneys or Dover Street, it’s not even really a question about how much you’re going to sell. It’s more about what that decision says about you and your brand. It’s what it represents as a retailer on a more ideological level,” said Donnelly. “That being said, the effect goes both ways. Each one boosts the other.”
Donnelly pointed out that brands are given control in designing how they appear in the store environment, something that other department stores don’t offer. It’s especially important for young, digitally native street and skater brands that aren’t accustomed to outside retail partnerships. Brands are given full creative control over merchandise installations, but there are limitations: They aren’t told who they’ll be next to or what surrounding installations look like.
“Going forward, department stores will start adopting from this model,” said Kirsten Green, the founding partner at Forerunner Ventures. “Localized, streetwear-driven, with a corporate mindset that puts power in the individual brands and merchandiser level. That’s the only way to win.”