image: NY Times image: NY Times

Dover Street Market has made headlines for its personification of the art and commerce balance. And the seven-story dream house for fashion fans, DSM New York – the latest in the timeline of locations (The first of the three DSM branches opened on Dover Street in Mayfair in 2004, followed by Tokyo in 2006 and New York in 2013.) – does not disappoint.

Take the exclusive collaborations, for instance. The “Prada at Dover Street Market” label commenced when Prada brought back its famed and floral Spring/Summer 2008 collection in a DSM-exclusive capsule collection. More recently, the collection boasts five new limited edition styles, of which DSM describes: “Inspiration is taken from a ‘new bourgeois” look, reinterpreted by Prada, proposed in brown and beige tones.”

The store is also stocking Special A/W 2014 menswear collection pieces, which are available in very limited quantities and exclusive to Dover Street Market New York, of course. Once we move past the big names that DSM stocks (think: Prada, Jil Sander, Raf Simons, Comme des Garçons, Rick Owens, Saint Laurent, etc.), there is another breed of prized names: The young brands. Melitta Baumeister, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Jacquemus (looks from his S/S 2014 collection pictured below), Hood By Air, and Phoebe English take a stage of their own.

Shortly after its opening late last year, publications began to ponder the potential longevity of the brainchild of Comme des Garçons mastermind, Rei Kawakubo. The space itself is a sight to be seen, a Kawakubo dreamscape, complete with a space-themed staircase.

Adrian Joffe, Kawakubo’s husband and the CEO of  Comme des Garçons, and his team curate the selection of merchandise available, which includes everything from Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton (including an exclusive selection of Marc Jacobs’ last collection for the famed French house) to recent LVMH Prize finalist Simone Rocha to an exclusive collection by the cult designer Andre Walker.

Certainly out of the way for most, with a location at 160 Lexington Avenue, and offering garments and accessories that are likely out of the price range of most, one can see the arguments against DSMNY’s long-term success. It may seem gimmicky. It may lose its novelty. Moreover, with many consumers simply favoring e-commerce over brick-and-mortar stores, can DSMNY withstand? And the answer is: It seems likely.

Essentially, DSM is more than just a brick and mortar shop. And that is its strength. The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica, for one, called DSM “more museum than store.” And given that Kawakubo, 71, designed the interior herself, it is not surprising. The Tokyo-born designer, who has inspired a handful of exhibits herself, set the overall tone of the spaces, with an emphasis on artists with an uncompromising vision and “something to say.”

During New York’s Frieze Art Fair in May, for instance, DSMNY played host to Palace Skateboard’s exhibition from the Tate Modern, which was displayed with the brand’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection. More recently, as part of its “New Beginning,” a seasonal transition, in which DSM calls on its designers to create on-site installations to complement the season’s wares, much of the store got a re-vamp.

Phoebe English, a London-based luxury womenswear label, debuted an installation in DSM’s New York and London locations, complete with white boulders representing a collapsed cliff, stacked between two racks holding her F/W 2014 collection pieces, including delicate latex crop tops and pencil skirts, use of her signature tulle, and densely crafted knitwear.

Similarly, recent Parsons MFA graduate, Melitta Baumiester, 28, unveiled her collection and the accompanying installation (pictured below) on the fourth floor; it is the first thing that meets your eye upon stepping off of the elevator. DSM is carrying quite a selection of Baumeister’s garments in both its London and New York locations, which is quite a feat for such a young gun.

But keeping this in mind, I would argue that if you look past the various installations and the multi-color decor, which certainly does demand attention, DSM presents itself as more of a carefully curated collection than a museum (although the Commes des Garçons Play section certainly does feel like a gift shop), and the fourth floor is a testament to that notion.

Kawakubo has never been one to do anything the conventional way, and as emerging designers have become increasingly “trendy” (for lack of a better word), likely due to the exposure they have gained for the array of young designer competitions, Kawakubo has found a way to tap into their talent without feeling like she is following anything but her own lead.

Dedicated to emerging designers, the fourth floor (one of DSM’s most prized gems, in my opinion), boasts DSM’s newest recruits: Baumeister, English, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Craig Green, Jacquemus, Lee Roach, 1205, Proper Gang, Shaun Samson, and Sibling. Some of these names are obviously a bit more recognizable than others.

But Baumeister, for instance, does not stock many places (yet). Phoebe English only stocks at one other store in the U.S., H. Lorenzo in Los Angeles. Dover Street Market was her first stockist. The same goes for Craig Green, who also stocks at 12345 in LA. Jacquemus and Gosha Rubchinskiy, on the other hand, are a bit less difficult to procure, stocking online at a handful of e-commerce sites, but are certainly still far from your commonplace names.

Thankfully, the store (or shoppable museum, or whatever you choose to call it), stocks big enough names and boasts an interior that is so talked about that it will continue to draw people in, regardless of its off-the-beaten path locale or its hefty price tags. A Giambattista Valli pop-up shop (or whoever is opening up shop at any given time) will attract dedicated fans. The promise of re-introduced, limited edition Prada pieces will likely always cause a stir. And, without fail, the Supreme collaborations result in a frenzy, of course. These are givens.

Less obvious but maybe just as important is DSM’s vision to incubate fashion’s next generation. A handful of the youngest brands do not regularly maintain showrooms, making DSM an incubator or a group show, of sorts.

Of this, Baumeister, who got her start at VFILES MADE FASHION Show in February, said: “I’m very happy to be with a group of creators that have a mutual understanding on fashion, to be part of a showroom that believes in the importance of creating new experiences of how fashion can be consumed, in a world of beautiful chaos.” And thus, DSM elevates itself. It is not just a store. It is a space. It is a community.

And certainly the DSM team shares this view. Speaking of the decision to stock Phoebe English, for instance, Dickon Bowden, vice-president of Dover Street Market, said: “[Phoebe] offered a new and interesting perspective. 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.”