The OG of experiential shopping, COMME des GARÇONS, may be reclaiming its pop-up shop crown. With as little fanfare as it can muster, Rei Kawakubo‘s inimitable label is reintroducing its “Guerilla” stores, pioneering temporary boutiques that predated the pop-up shop movement by a good decade or so.
Kawakubo is an innovator, to be sure, but she didn’t invent the pop-up nor the concept shop (the latter title is held by 10 Corso Como) — she did, however, perfect countless emerging retail concepts to the extent that many of them became de rigueur. Consider COMME des GARÇONS’ brutalist Soho flagship, art-meets-fashion TRADING MUSEUM, merch-centric Good Design Shop, or the constant flood of exclusives that enliven Dover Street Market on a weekly basis, heightening both return visits and the store’s street cred.
COMME des GARÇONS’ Guerilla shops were an early experiment in experiential retail, the “anti-concept concept store,” as The New York Times asserted. From 2004 to 2009, the Japanese company granted local enthusiasts permission to run single-year stores in mostly European locations — including Ljubljana, Berlin, Helsinki, Istanbul, Barcelona, and Reykjavik — that were, especially at the time, not quite fashion hubs. They were successful, too: a spokeswoman reported that a Warsaw outpost “met 300 percent of its projected monthly sales in the first week.”
These short-lived spaces allowed CdG to step into territory where it didn’t have existing outposts, experimenting with low-cost storefronts that emphasized clothing interaction over social media-friendly facades. One need only look at the plastic tarps and clunky wooden furniture deployed in Berlin’s space to ascertain the intentionally roughshod feel. It’s quintessential COMME des GARÇONS: a so-crazy-it’ll-work concept brought to life by true believers, enlivened by FOMO before the term existed.
Over a decade since the last tiny Guerilla store closed its doors, COMME des GARÇONS suddenly revived the concept. A Guerilla store has spontaneously opened in Tokyo’s Omotesando neighborhood for a mere two weeks (it closes May 31), offering archival clothing akin to the original Guerilla locations and even some suitably low-tech merch by way of a screen-printed T-shirt and coaches jacket.
To the surprise of no one, the always-enigmatic CdG hasn’t reported any more Guerilla stores, so this might be a one-off quirk. Or, it could be the first sign of COMME des GARÇONS reasserting its place as pop-up pioneer with another series of global Guerillas.