EXCLUSIVE: Supreme Is Entering China Via Dover Street Market in Beijing
Supreme — one of the stealthiest, buzziest and once most counterfeited brands in streetwear — is officially entering the Chinese market as part of Dover Street Market’s expanded new Beijing emporium.
The three-level Dover Street Market Beijing in WF Central, a luxury shopping complex close to the Forbidden City, is about 40 percent bigger than the previous location in Taikoo Li Sanlitun and houses a host of new brands including Dries Van Noten, Jan-Jan Van Essche, Paul Harnden Shoemakers, Walter Van Beirendonck, Airei, Post Archive Faction and Egg.
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“It’s a bigger bet on China for sure,” Adrian Joffe, chief executive officer of Dover Street Market and president of Comme des Garçons International, said in an exclusive interview. “It was doing so well; It was time to expand.”
The enlarged unit, spanning about 22,600 square feet, is slated to open on Saturday, with an exclusive Supreme T-shirt for Dover Street Market Beijing sure to be among the most sought-after items at the sprawling store.
A steep jump in rent at Sanlitun helped precipitate the move to WF Central, but Joffe noted that Dover Street Market and Comme des Garçons have a legacy of pioneering fashion retail in unexpected neighborhoods, often moving on when they become too gentrified and mainstream.
Comme des Garçons and its maverick designer Rei Kawakubo famously opened in 1983 on Wooster Street in New York’s SoHo district, which back then boasted a concentration of art galleries, and plenty of grit. By 1998, when chain stores like Williams-Sonoma, J. Crew, Sunglass Hut, Gap, Victoria’s Secret and Pottery Barn started arriving, Kawakubo upped sticks and decamped to far west Chelsea, where art galleries started migrating.
In partnership with Hong Kong retailer I.T, Dover Street Market Beijing opened in 2010 under the name I.T Beijing Market. In 2018, the store changed its name to Dover Street Market Beijing.
Kenny Chan, CEO of I.T China, echoed Joffe’s sentiment on the location change.
“The original Sanlitun was not the center of fashion retail, but rather started out as a bar street that developed into one of the city’s fashion landmarks,” Chan said.
By contrast, the move to Wangfujing, Dover Street Market Beijing’s new home, “reflects the historical and cultural significance of the district and reflects DSM’s philosophy of choosing as many cultural places as possible in the city where the DSM is located.
“Furthermore, we chose WF Central in Wangfujing district, not only because it is a commercial project aimed at creating a refined fashion district, but also because of the international vision and operating experience of Hongkong Land Holdings, who is a trusted retail partner,” he added.
Dover Street Market prefers freestanding buildings for its emporiums that mix Comme des Garçons with other designer and streetwear brands — a challenge to find in Beijing.
But Joffe lucked out finding a glass and tile offshoot of the WF Central complex, offering expansive floors with high ceilings — and dynamic environs blending galleries, restaurants, museums and other attractions besides luxury retail.
Supreme is already present in Dover Street Market locations in New York; London, England; Los Angeles, California, and Tokyo, Japan, and it saw in the expanded Dover Street Market Beijing a natural way to finally officially enter the Chinese market.
According to Joffe, Dover Street Market had Supreme on board to open in China for some time, but the American skate brand opted to wait out the coronavirus pandemic and DSM’s move to the new location.
It is understood Supreme received its official trademark from the Chinese Trademark Office in January 2020, securing its brand and intellectual property in the country.
In the years leading up to securing the trademark, Supreme had successfully eliminated the use of knockoff Supreme trademarks and put an end to multiple counterfeiters.
The official Supreme, founded by James Jebbia in 1994 and part of VF Corp. since 2020, already has more than 30,000 followers on Chinese social network Weibo and is believed to have a strong fan base in the vast nation.
There is a Supreme fan account on Weibo with more than 165,000 followers.
Kidk Xiao, vice president of social media platform Nice, which is dedicated to Chinese streetwear, applauded Supreme’s move into the market.
“The difference between China and the rest of the world is the popularity of daigous and secondary markets, which in turn means the brand can grow its fan base super fast, especially in lower-tier cities, where these kids are always on their phones looking at daigou stuff,” Xiao said, referring to surrogate shopping in China.
He also gave a thumbs up to having concurrent drop dates for collaborations. “I won’t have to wait for the daigous from Japan or America anymore, even though it could be a little pricier buying Supreme here, but you save a lot of time,” he commented.
Dover Street Market Beijing will offer Supreme’s global product offering, including its weekly releases of collaborative lines, the latest of which was dedicated to a new version of Nike’s Air Max 98 TL.
Supreme collaborations will drop on Saturdays in Beijing, as they do in Japan. Thursdays are drop days in all other Supreme international locations.
In the interview, Joffe described the new location as the latest expression of the “beautiful chaos” that Kawakubo created as the essence of the Dover Street Market concept, which first debuted in London 18 years ago.
The emporiums are prized for cutting-edge brand curation, surprising adjacencies and unusual features like huts for the cash wrap, and life-sized elephant artworks lording over certain rooms in a few locations, including Beijing. (The pachyderms are by London-based artist Stephanie Quayle.)
Kawakubo oversees the architecture for each location and made a giant polka-dot column, which seems to pierce all three floors, a key feature of Dover Street Market Beijing.
Joffe said that central to the DNA of Dover Street Market is its freewheeling mix of marquee luxury brands, emerging labels, activewear, jewelry, T-shirts, sneakers — and sometimes fuzzy distinctions between men’s and women’s departments. Interspersed are books, homewares, fragrances and a full arsenal of Comme des Garçons lines, which take up about a third of the floor space.
He characterized Supreme as one of its “pillar” brands, and “we are proud and honored” to have it as part of Dover Street Market Beijing.
“I’m sure it will add to the success of the store,” he said.
Among other brands afforded larger spaces in the new DSMB are Sacai, Lemaire, Junya Watanabe Man and Comme des Garçons Homme Plus and Comme des Garçons Pocket.
Joffe also disclosed that a Dover Street Market would open in Paris in fall 2023, installed in the grand 17th-century town house located at 35-37 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois that has been operating a cultural centre since March 2021.
While lockdowns related to coronavirus outbreaks have made operating in China more challenging in recent years, Joffe said he’s been impressed with how sophisticated and knowledgeable local clients have become.
“The Chinese make it their own. They’re not slavishly following fashion, and they’re ever more knowledgeable and aware,” Joffe enthused, citing strong demand in Beijing for such in-the-know brands as Rick Owens, Christopher Nemeth and Daniela Gregis.
I.T’s Chan concurred: “Now the domestic fashion market has become more mature and customers are not like in the early days, only in pursuit of traditional luxury goods. They look for more fashion-forward taste in fashion and designer products with pioneering ideas,” he said.
Chan was also sanguine and the intermittent lockdowns that occur because of China’s zero-COVID-19 policy. “That will certainly have an impact, but we will remain positive. The pandemic will pass,” he said.