Guerilla store lands in Athens

Breaking away from the often dictatorial rules governing the fashion industry establishment has always been high on the agenda of Japanese-born Comme des Garcons. In the case of the cult brand’s global chain of guerilla stores, for instance, the mantra is this: «Small groups of independent people fighting for what they believe.» This is where unexpected sites turn into alternative outlets for the brand, with a maximum operational duration of up to a year. Following guerilla stores in Berlin, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cologne, Warsaw, Helsinki, Barcelona and Reykjavik, among others, an Athenian outlet began «occupation» (the term coined by Comme des Garcons) last month at the city’s Bios center. Since the early 1970s, when Rei Kawakubo established the company in Tokyo (before moving to Paris in 1980), Comme des Garcons has been at the forefront of fashion innovation clearly defined by her modern spirit. Kawakubo’s road to success has been paved with conceptual fashion based on deconstruction, a penchant for black (every collection features a black segment) and a sense of austerity. Besides turning into major inspiration for minimalist designers – think Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester, for instance – Kawakubo’s groundbreaking attitude has brought a series of novelties. The idea for the guerilla stores came to her sometime in 2004, during a trip to Berlin. Designed by an architecture student, the first guerilla store opened in the German city on the premises of an old bookstore. «The stores open in ‘dead’ areas,» said Dimitris Papadopoulos, the man behind the Greek leg of the international campaign. As the local partner for the project, Papadopoulos heads the outlet situated on the first floor of Bios. «In Warsaw, for instance, the guerilla store was situated underneath a bridge.» How does the company pick the guerilla store location? Don’t expect any to turn up in style capitals such as New York, Tokyo, Paris and Milan, for the idea is to set up shop in areas which appear to be off the fashion map. Once the city is chosen, the search is on for a place which has something to say about the city’s history. At Bios, for instance, the Parthenon acts as a backdrop (the monument is also featured on the Greek campaign’s poster, which is written in Greek). Without any fanfare and publicity, each opening is announced only a few days before («It drops like a bomb,» according to Papadopoulos), while no outlet advertises. For Papadopoulos, whose passion for fashion led him into the field of retail a few years ago, it was a 1997 catwalk collection, featuring striking, unexpected volumes, which drew him to Comme des Garcons. A May 2005 letter addressed to the company’s Paris headquarters was enough to trigger interest and eventually lead to the establishment of the store (in Athens, Comme des Garcons collections are available at Sotris and Bettina stores). Meanwhile, more guerilla stores are expected to open in Istanbul, Mexico City and Glasgow. Though the stores disappear after a year (or less), they may resurface in the same city in a different location. Is a Comme des Garcons guerilla store a glorified discount outlet? «It’s a brilliant business move, taking the object outside its natural habitat and giving it to the public in a very different way,» explained Papadopoulos. Away from state-of-the-art Comme des Garcons outlets where every single detail counts, the guerilla stores appear laid-back and inviting – once you locate them. This is where initiated fans and newcomers to the brand can browse over selected items from past and present. More than an attempt to get rid of stock, the guerilla store’s supply is based on the promotion of signature pieces, a number of which may one day reach collector’s item status. The prices for «vintage» pieces, such as a 1999 sequined combo currently available at the Athens store, may drop down to 40 percent. At Bios, besides garments, customers will find popular (and well-priced) T-shirts, footwear, accessories and gadgets as well as perfumes (a new Comme des Garcons fragrance, Guerilla, is expected to be launched sometime this year), while fresh additions at the Bios fragrance counter include the Series 5 Sherbet Solids and the Series 7 Sweet. The store’s stock will be renewed every 20 days, while the Comme des Garcons spring/summer collection will be available in mid-March at regular prices. Also on display are pieces stemming from collaborations with other brands, such as a Comme des Garcons collection jointly produced with sportswear specialist Fred Perry, featuring shoes and T-shirts, among other items. During the «occupation» Papadopoulos is willing to explore possibilities of collaborations with local talent – which could produce exclusive limited-edition pieces by Greek designers – along with artistic and music projects.

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