Inside dot COMME’s cult fashion archive

Based above a Melbourne Subway sandwich shop, dot COMME offers a rare selection of rule-breaking fashion – founder Octavius la Rosa discusses his collection

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dot Comme archive fashion store feature Comme des Garcons
All clothes Comme des GarçonsPhotography Phebe Schmidt, fashion Hali Christou

Where can you find some of the world’s rarest and most valuable iconoclastic fashion? You might think London, Paris, or New York – but another answer is an online shop and retail store called dot COMME. Followed by clothing obsessives, editors and fans from around the world, dot COMME carries some of the best archival clothing from just six notable labels: Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Walter Van Beirendonck and Bernhard Willhelm. Residing in a tiny boutique on the 3rd floor of an old building in Melbourne, Australia (above a Subway sandwich shop, no less), owner Octavius la Rosa and creative director Holly-Rose Butler have been collecting and curating select pieces for sale and exhibition.

Originally started as an online store, dot COMME has now been transformed into a physical space, with many pieces displayed as not-for-sale, museum-like objects. Sourcing pieces from all over the world, the duo attribute social media to their quiet success and have amassed a fervently devoted following via Instagram. With a collection of around 2500 items, Octavius, who was “born to be a collector,” has an obsessive knack for categorising and archiving the clothing he’s sourced from the farthest corners of the globe, at the same time managing to blur the distinction between museum and retail commerce. Below, he opens up about his collection – accompanied by a shoot by Phebe Schmidt and styled by Hali Christou.

How did you get started with dot COMME?

Octavius la Rosa: The designers we stock are the ones that I was interested in from an early age and then just started collecting. I went on a few overseas trips with my mum when I was younger and picked up a few pieces. From there, I got obsessed with studying the history and collecting just kept on going until it got out of control. I started an eBay store 5 years ago to make a bit of money – that went really well and it turned into an online shop which got attention from international customers. We opened up a temporary shop in Melbourne and it was really well received, even though it was more wearable pieces that we were selling. Just four months ago we moved into a permanent space, which is really awesome.

Do you remember when you first became interested in this particular area of fashion?

Octavius la Rosa: I was still in high school, probably 14 or 15, just looking up fashion – I knew nothing about it – and coming across these designers and thinking, ‘Wow, what is this?’ There’s a whole other world, because it was like nothing I’d ever seen. I got really fixated on it which is part of my personality, and I just want to know everything about it. I’ve never gone to school to study fashion.

It’s a self-taught education.

Octavius la Rosa: Definitely, just reading magazines and articles and that kind of thing.

Do you find that there’s a community of people who share a similar taste?

Octavius la Rosa: There’s definitely a huge online community – I’m not really much a part of that, but I know it’s there. I’ve got a small group of people here in Melbourne and overseas that I email with that appreciate the same fashion and interests as me. I love talking about it with people because you can tell they’ve got the same vision.

How has the internet and social media played a role in your business and the growth of your store?

Octavius la Rosa: We’ve mainly done Instagram, which has been really great. A lot of customers have found out about us through that. Since we opened up here a few months ago, we started a Melbourne-based account, where we’ll do outfits of the day and that kind of thing. It’s been really good at generating momentum here in Melbourne. All the time people will message us asking if things are for sale, or if we’ve got a specific item. Someone contacted us through Instagram and offered to do a Paris pop-up, which we’re going to do in September, so that’s amazing! It’s going to be Comme des Garçons only, from 1991-2001. The guy who got in touch is an art curator so he’s going to take it from that point of view. He wants to do something that’s really different, with lots of old articles and interviews with Rei Kawakubo and prints that they’ve done.

Do you have an extensive knowledge of the designers’ linear history and chronology?

Octavius la Rosa: It’s an obsession. I want to know every single piece of information. I can look at any piece that’s ever designed and I know exactly when it’s from. I just have to know everything.

What is your favorite year or season from one of these designers?

Octavius la Rosa: It’s hard to pick just one, but one of my favorites is AW96 from Comme des Garçons, which is all the flocked pieces in brocades. It’s just beautiful. It’s such a progression too, because you can see huge links between one collection and the next. She always drags something onto the next collection and then improves on it or does it in a new way and then takes that new thing into the next collection and it’s one long chain. It’s really interesting.

“It’s an obsession. I can look at any piece that’s ever designed and I know exactly when it’s from. I just have to know everything” – Octavius la Rosa 

How does the physicality of having a brick and mortar shop differ from online? I’m curious as to how the tactility of each designers’ textures and aesthetics play a role in your curation and arrangement in store, especially because everything is essentially one-of-a-kind.

Octavius la Rosa: It’s hard trying to put everything together sometimes because the textures fight against each other. Ideally, it would be best suited to a large gallery space – you can spread them out and have hero pieces and mannequins, but I have a limited budget and space so you have to deal with the best you can. I really enjoy being in the shop and meeting all the different people. It’s totally different. In the store we can’t have all the crazy, out-there collectible pieces that we have online, because they’re just not going to sell. We’ve got more of an everyday range that people can come in and get an everyday wear out of. If people want to see the pieces that are online, we’ll take them to the storage and show them.

How do you manage to keep track of all the pieces?

Octavius la Rosa: I catalog everything, I’ll write it down next to the collection. It’s good because you can look at it and see which piece would make a good ensemble. I like to sell them like that. I’ll put things away and then wait until I find something that goes well with it from the same collection and then sell them as a set.

Where do you source most of your pieces from?

Octavius la Rosa: It’s all over. I’ve gotten quite a lot from Melbourne. In the 80s and 90s there were about four stores here that sold Comme and Yohji. I’ve been traveling to Japan one or two times per year and meeting with people around the world who’ve got collections they want to sell. Once they want to sell them, they’ve got a lot of pieces that I can get in one go. I’ve got a matching pair of pants to a suit in a small town in Italy. Especially in Japan, I’ve found some really obscure, small shops that have some early 80s pieces.

What are the most valuable pieces you’ve acquired?

Octavius la Rosa: A few of the 80s pieces. A couple of Lump and Bump ensembles from the 1997 collection. They’re super collectible and very hard to find. Those are worth a lot of money. The recent stuff is pretty valuable as well – now Rei is doing total, wearable art. I get a couple of those each season – she cuts the runs down to maybe only 4 or 5 pieces and they never come up for resale, so it’s hard to tell what they’re worth. The Paperdoll 2D collection from 2012 is really collectible too. Cherry Taylor Auctions in London do the premiere high-end clothing and historical pieces, which get a lot of museums that bid against each other. On that kind of platform, you get like $30,000 plus on some of them.

Melbourne is a city that’s pretty removed physically from the rest of the world. Has that had an influence on you at all?

Octavius la Rosa: It is a really long way. Luckily, with the internet, it doesn’t make too much of a difference. I think maybe with the people in Melbourne, they’ve got something to prove because it is so far away. Melbourne is really interesting city and a lot of people are doing really great things. Because of that, the store does do very well. It’s a pity because there are so many creative people in Melbourne, but the fact is that you can only get so far, so a lot of them move overseas. You’ve kind of got to if you want to get further in a creative industry.

Have you ever considered taking dot COMME internationally?

Octavius la Rosa: Yeah, I’ve definitely considered it. We can still do pop-ups in Paris and maybe doing a New York one next year. We did one with Opening Ceremony when we first started, which was really amazing. Walter Van Beirendonck recommended us for having a really great archive, and they contacted us when we were so new.

Do you have any unrealised projects you haven’t completed yet?

Octavius la Rosa: I’m really interested in making an archive of Comme des Garcons that can be shown in an exhibition somehow, but I’m still a long way off. I’ve got a lot of pieces, but I want to make it pretty outstanding, so that’s my goal.

@dotcomme | @dotcomme.melbourne 

Photography Phebe Schmidt, fashion Hali Christou; hair and make-up Colette Miller; models Brennan Olver and Olympia Christou; fashion assistant Daniel Aloisio; footwear thanks to Miss Louise.

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