High-Fashion, Low-Rent: welcome to Comme des Garçons

Glasgow has become the first city in Britain to play host to one of Japanese fashion house Comme des Garçons' "guerrilla" retail stores.

Feature by Lindsey Johnstone | 15 Jun 2006

Glasgow has become the first city in Britain to play host to one of Japanese fashion house Comme des Garçons' "guerrilla" retail stores. The so-called "occupation" of the CIA Warehouse in Kelvinhaugh puts Glasgow in league with Warsaw, Reykjavik, Barcelona and Singapore among other cities, which were chosen as locations by the label for their vibrant character and the fact that they are off the official fashion radar; which doesn't pick up much outside of London, Paris, New York and Milan.

As with all the previous stores, the Glasgow shop will be packed up after one year, regardless of sales performance. The guerrilla stores are part of a trend for temporary sales spaces that has been tagged 'pop-up retail', and aims to take high fashion beyond the boundaries set by luxurious, conspicuously designed flagship stores and make it more accessible.
Guerrilla retail is the ultimate extension of Comme des Garçons' founder and designer Rei Kawakubo's love of deconstruction. Although the fact that the store locations are as idiosyncratic as the individual cities they are based in is fundamental to the concept, as stipulated by the designer and her husband and business partner Adrian Joffe in their manifesto for the project, what they all share is an 'anti-design' look.

This is a look generated by the character and previous use of the space, rather than by any pre-conceived design process. The Glasgow store looks exactly like what it already was: a white-washed room in a former Customs and Excise tobacco storage warehouse, with rails of clothes and cabinets of accessories in it. Oh, and a psychedelic paisley-patterned vintage Daimler limousine.

The store feels like somewhere to be stumbled upon, that wasn't asking to be found. Indeed, the only advertising was by flyers handed out at gigs in the warehouse, and word-of-mouth, which correlates with the renegade vibe of the whole enterprise, and will undoubtedly only add to the appeal for the typical Comme des Garçons consumer. The people who buy into this unorthodox brand are not the people who respond to slick marketing campaigns starring airbrushed Brazilian supermodels.

The location is off the beaten fashion track, as far in spirit as in geography from the gentrified emporia of the Merchant City, where retailers have "restored" disused banks, hotels and civic buildings to the point of being unrecognisable as such. With Wetherspoons pubs leading this trend for regeneration to its tolerable limit, Comme des Garçons, unsurprisingly, are choosing to push the envelope that little bit further. As spokesperson for the company Annika McVeigh says: "Architecture no longer sells clothes."
Of course, the shop sells more than concepts.

The stock is a seasonless mix of pieces from both current and previous collections, loosely arranged by colour and texture in blocks of blue, black, cream, pink and white. There are swirly white skirts featuring faux-naif embroidered composites of animals; half-monkey, half-bird, and military frock coats in pink and green '70s carpet patterns. Particularly desirable are leather document wallets/make-up bags/use-them-for-whatever-you-like leather pouch things in primary colours. The shop also sells the label's fragrances, and its Fred Perry collaboration pieces. And the prices, while not quite in keeping with the surroundings, do start at £14 for some very nice socks, although a crochet bodystocking will set you back a little more.

The Comme des Garcons Guerilla Store, 104 Eastvale Place, Glasgow G3.