This year, Comme des Garçons, the avant-garde fashion line designed by Rei Kawakubo, opened a series of ”guerrilla stores” in hip, yet-to-be-gentrified areas in cities around the world, including Berlin, Barcelona, Helsinki, Singapore, Stockholm, Ljubljana and Warsaw. Kawakubo and her husband and business partner, Adrian Joffe, delineated their guerrilla idea with a no-nonsense precision usually reserved for actual combat operations.

The shops, which are installed in raw urban spaces — the Berlin outpost occupies a former bookstore; the Helsinki a 1950’s pharmacy — sell ”seasonless” merchandise drawn from current and past collections, must remain unsullied by architects and designers and are required to close after a single year.

While the venture might be interpreted as a call to arms against the aggressive commercialism and gaudy architecture of high-concept flagship behemoths like the Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada stores, it has also engendered a delicious absurdity: in their rejection of concept-store pretension, the guerrilla stores have realized its purest expression. A news release issued by Comme des Garçons lays out the ”rules” behind this anti-concept with the earnestness of F.T. Marinetti’s futurist manifesto: ”The location will be chosen according to its atmosphere, historical connection, geographical situation away from established commercial areas or some other interesting feature,” reads one rule.

The idea may be easy to send up, but guerrilla retailing is also smart business, allowing companies to tap into new markets at low cost (rents are cheap; advertising is nil) and to reduce inventory by recycling old merchandise. Indeed, others have joined Comme des Garçons in employing this marketing tactic. Alife, a Manhattan collective best described as a gallery, store and hipster brain trust, partnered with Levi’s this fall to create a line of jeans that sold for one month only, and Vacant, a high-end retailer that bills itself on its Web site as the ”original traveling guerrilla retail concept and exhibition,” has opened ephemeral store-gallery hybrids in empty spaces across the globe. A spokeswoman for Comme des Garçons notes that the guerrilla project has been wildly successful (”Warsaw met 300 percent of its projected monthly sales in the first week”). The company now plans to open shops in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, S-o Paulo and Istanbul.

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