Photograph courtesy of Dover Street Market New York.

MoMA vs. Dover Street Market: Battle of the Fashion Souvenir Shops

If the merchandise inspired by MoMA’s new fashion exhibition doesn’t move you, Dover Street Market’s new floor has a selection of reasonably priced souvenirs for fashion obsessives.

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Oct 16 2017, 2:45pm

Photograph courtesy of Dover Street Market New York.

After strolling through "Items: Is Fashion Modern" —MoMA's 111-piece buffet of clothing that covers everything from Birkinis to MLB ballcaps to Dapper Dan bombers—
visitors are directed towards MoMA's second-floor bookstore. There, they're confronted with what MoMA surely considers be the fortune cookies of this fashion feast: a small take-home item to remember "Items" by.

Tucked in the corner, this small, cherry-picked offering of pieces is an homage to the artifacts four flights up, but one that barely sniffs at the most stirring items in "Items." Vivienne Westwood's bulging-butt Faux Cul bag, Margiela's D.I.Y. tabi sandals, Pierre Cardin's Cosmos one-pieces, and a cropped patchwork suit from the South African fashion collective the Sartists: such designs exhilarate, expanding one's notion of what fashion can or should be. As you exit through the gift shop, that balloon is squarely popped, and instead you find a MoMA logo-emblazoned New Era hat, an equally-as-logofied Champion hoodie a Ralph Lauren polo that looks like any other polo until you peek at the "MoMA edition" sliver-sized label, and most "fashion" of all, an Issey Miyake turtleneck, which outside the lofty exhibition atmosphere is well, just another turtleneck. (Albeit one with a Steve Jobs cosign.)

"Leave the fashion upstairs," they seem to say. "Opt instead for pleasant, pedestrian souvenirs that capture little more than 'I was there.'" Considering that the show has both "fashion" and "modern" in its name (unlike their first, and until now only, clothing show, 1947's "Are Clothes Modern?"), it's disappointing that the museum took a retrograde attitude toward the souvenirs in its bookstore. I give the show itself credit for gazing to the future, even going so far as tapping contemporary designers like Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss and Francesco Risso of Marni to create protoype reinterpretaions of given classics, (a Pierre Cardin space suit and a Mao jacket, respectively). But there's no trace of that envelope pushing in the bookstore's selections. They're what many would call "timeless," so long as time stops this very second. Than again, MoMA's audience of tourists more interested in looking at art, than wearing it, will surely appreciate that these clothes are as safe to wear as the Hamilton t-shirt that will (with any luck) wind up in their suitcase as well.

For a gift shop that actually stirs up all the messy imaginativeness of fashion, venture 23 blocks south to Dover Street Market. Situated on 30th and Lex, in a neighborhood known for either Indian spice markets or sticky-floored sports bars (depending on whom you ask), DSM is a playground for the fashion curious: those who wish to gawk at the beauty of a misshapen Balenciaga puffer jacket or just gawk at its $3,250 price tag.

Like a museum, when you enter, a man dressed in a staid black suit will hand you a map to the store. Wave it off. Start on the seventh floor and work your way down. It's the best way to take in the radical mix that the Comme des Garçon empire (which owns all four global Dover Street locations) has curated: here are the season's new labels (from LVMH Prize winner Marine Serre to London shaker Martine Rose to Stussy-alum Noon Goons), and collaborations (Vans x Alyx, Sacai x North Face, Reebok x Cottweiler), but the store's mélange also makes it the epicenter for styles that stretch the parameters of modern fashion.

First-timers tiptoe through the racks, treading lightly around Melinda Baumeister's marshmallowed down jackets or Shrimps' Whoville-flavored faux furs. DSM is where the curious can confront Raf Simon's Calvin Klein, Alessandro Michele's Gucci, and Demna Gvasalia's Balenciaga in all of its fully-formed fantasy. DSM is a platform for positing where fashion goes from here; it's where the runway image on a phone becomes a reality. The store is littered with new classics, pieces that could well end up in a museum show in years to come.

And once you've taken that all in, you land at the Basement, the store's newest floor, which debuted last July after a renovation. Here is high fashion's mind-bending gift shop. The Basement is a distillation of the store's ideas, but to call it a dilution would suggest it squelches the ingenuity that thumps through the rest of the building. Instead, it channels the avant-garde energy of DSM and offers it in a more palatable look—and price. The items on the bottom level are among the cheapest in the building. After gulping at price tags for seven floors, a $40 T-shirt from Know Wave, one of New York's many nascent, skate-adjacent labels that every LES bartender seems to be wearing at the moment, is like a glass of ice water.

Photograph courtesy of Dover Street Market New York.

This is true of all gift shops (a Monet poster is certainly cheaper than a Monet on the auction block), but here, these items do not feel like simulacra; they come imbued with the same "in-the-know" authenticity that makes Dover Street as a whole a fashion destination.

The Vans in the basement sneaker space are not unlike the rarefied Undercover middle-finger-emblazoned slip-ons for sale on Six—admittedly, with a bit of clout skimmed off the top (and a nearly $300 price difference). A cartoon drawing of a dominatrix on a Good Company tee softly echoes the sloppy, sexual humor of the phallic pink columns and giant appendaged sweaters in Walter Van Beirendonck's third-floor installation. The Basement's Squint and Gosha Rubchinskiy's $100 Adidas track pants are not unlike Wales Bonner's be-ribboned black silk trousers from the third floor (albeit at a seventh of the price), and his crisscrossing soccer ball sweater is a close cousin to Gucci's can't-miss Donald Duck and acid-rainbow knits on the seventh.

And perhaps most important is an entire section dedicated to Comme des Garçons's "Good Design Shop" collection. There, Rei fanatics and souvenir-hound tourists can shop the tribal gear of CDG, like the back-printed logo jackets the brand has done since the 80s, soccer scarves (MoMA has a less alluring version for $65), plimsolls, backpacks. and hoodies—all emblazoned with the CDG logo.

Some of these items are as cheap as their uptown counterparts at MoMA, but in DSM's below-level gift shop, the pieces don't just shout out, "I was here," but also say, "And I get it." This is no small feat. Consider the extreme artifacts of the Comme empire recently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Rei Kawakubo exhibition: sculptural, armhole-less dresses; lace-screen-printed ball gowns; mindbendingly pleated tartan skirts. Here, in the basement, CDG distills that artistry, like a band packing all the angst and energy of a performance into a single T-shirt. It's a souvenir of a moment, but more than that, it's a message.