Writing in AnOther Magazine Spring/Summer 2021, Dominic Cadogan exalts the first DSM location dedicated solely to beauty
This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are making the issue free and available digitally for a limited time only to all our readers wherever you are in the world. Sign up here.
If beauty were a rulebook, it’s been consistently – insistently – torn up by Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons. It is not just her clothing designs that have challenged and pushed the boundaries of the rules of attraction – her ideas of beauty through cosmetics have been equally radical. She has collaborated with hair and make-up artists including Pat McGrath and Stephane Marais, Christiaan and Julien d’Ys. Frequently, Kawakubo only provides a single inspirational word to work from, one that’s intangible and often extreme. And since the label’s first catwalk show, held in Paris in 1981, the beauty of the faces has matched the beauty of the clothes in a similarly groundbreaking shirking of convention. Models have been delicately powdered and heavily smeared, smudged abstractly, their lipstick-ed mouths pulled off-centre and their hair piled high or plastered to the scalp in unnatural shades. It makes perfect sense: if Kawakubo’s work makes sculptures of the body, why would she stop at the neck?
Beauty, therefore, is a logical extension of the Comme des Garçons empire – a fitting word considering its expansive umbrella of brands (which include Junya Watanabe and Noir Kei Ninomiya, while latterly, young labels such as New York-based Vaquera have been receiving its support) and global network of Dover Street Market stores (in London, New York, LA, Singapore, Beijing and Tokyo at the time of writing). Perfume has long been a part of that empire, too: the label’s first eponymous eau de parfum – a chypre – launched back in 1994. Since then, Kawakubo has curated a catalogue of perverse fragrances that have attracted a dedicated following. The Series 6: Synthetic range, for example, released ten years later, includes “socially incorrect” anti-perfumes inspired by tar (with notes of grilled cigarettes, exhaust fumes and bergamot), fizzy-drink flavourings and sweet, syrupy cake, while the brand’s droll Floriental contains not a single floral ingredient. Cult favourite Wonderwood dials its titular ingredient up to the nth degree, layering five real woods with synthetic ones and woody notes. They are all, as Kawakubo said 30 years ago, non-gender – “only for the one who loves it”.
Comme des Garçons’ Dover Street Parfums Market, which opened in Paris’s Marais district in October 2019, can be seen as something of a labour of love, therefore: it is the first DSM location dedicated solely to beauty. “We had closed the Comme des Garçons perfume shop [on Place du Marché Saint-Honoré] and thought it was a good idea to open Dover Street Parfums Market as the first DSM outpost idea – through which we would open much smaller stores that concentrated on a particular range of items,” says Adrian Joffe, president of Comme des Garçons International – and Kawakubo’s husband. “These outposts would share the same DNA of DSM, essentially that of beautiful chaos.”
Beautiful chaos perfectly describes DSPM, as the store is known. The street it sits on is classic Parisian – with limestone Haussmannian facades – while the shop, designed (like all DSM spaces) by Kawakubo, is clinically futuristic, an abrupt about-face compared with its surroundings. And within that environment? Beautiful – yet organised – chaos, whose features include mannequins wearing wigs created by d’Ys, a column covered in knitted squares by Texan textile artist Magda Sayeg, and an installation by Gucci Beauty, of a mirrored vanity and upholstered chair that seem to have been snipped from a picture of a suburban 1950s salon and slapped in the middle.
Other items nestle in modern, egg-shaped alcoves, the housing for cultish brands and fashion favourites: Maison Margiela, Helmut Lang, Byredo, scientific skincare brand Augustinus Bader. There is a host of natural and ethical indies, too, such as Haeckels and Sort of Coal – the Danish company known for its products made from white charcoal sourced from Japan. “We always look for brands that have a vision, are unique and special, and have something to say,” Joffe says of the pair’s careful selection. It’s unsurprising, then, that the product list boasts a bevy of non-binary cosmetics, too, including from Japanese eyeliner specialist UZU by Flowfushi, as well as make-up artist Feride Uslu’s Air Beauty airbrush tool and a tattoo-inspired body-art kit put together by DSPM in collaboration with MAC. “A positive, uplifting experience of discovery,” is the stated aim; visitors are encouraged to explore and investigate the nooks and crannies crammed with unexpected finds.
While our shopping habits become more digitised and the worlds of beauty and augmented reality overlap more frequently – last year, both Google and Pinterest unveiled technology that allows online shoppers to try on make-up virtually – DSPM is a triumph of IRL over URL. “We firmly believe in the human-to-human experience, the service and the knowledge that every customer is different,” Joffe says. “I always recommend different fragrances to different people, and this is impossible to re-create online.” Beauty is inextricably tied to our senses, and at a time when touch is taboo, the connection between them will surely only strengthen.
And so too will the erosion of gender – predicted by Kawakubo with her revolutionary take on perfumery back in the 1990s. Today, more and more brands have decided to blend the previously rigid demarcations of male/female: even establishment house Chanel is smudging that line with its Boy de Chanel make-up and skincare range, featuring ‘intensifying’ eyeliners, eight foundation shades and nail polishes with man-size brushes. Then there are the ‘universal’ non-binary fragrance launches from the likes of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi. After all, what does a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ really smell like? “Beauty is a mode of expression, it’s anything you want it to be,” says Joffe – a statement, of course, borne out by Comme des Garçons’ brave vision over the past four decades. “Perhaps even more so now, people need to connect and have freedom to express themselves, communicate and exchange ideas.”
Hair: Kiyoko Odo at Bryant Artists using AMIKA. Make-up: Lucy Bridge at Streeters. Models: Florence Hutchings at The Hive, Mountaga Diop at Supa. Casting: Noah Shelley at Streeters. Set design: Jabez Bartlett at Streeters. Manicure: Loui-Marie Ebanks at JAQ Management using YSL BEAUTY. Photographic assistants: Tarek Cassim and Joseph Reddy. Styling assistants: Jordan Duddy, Isabella Kavanagh and George Pistachio. Hair assistant: Kyosuke Tanzawa. Make-up assistant: Martha Inoue. Executive producer: Honor Hellon. Producer: Nicholas Forbes Watson