Curtin House in Swanston Street, Melbourne, is home to adventurous fashion. As well as P.A.M. Store, there’s dot Comme on level three, and also its new store on level four, dot Comme Collection. Those visiting Cookie, a bar and restaurant on level one, should take the time to venture a few levels above (many patrons do). The fairly dingy stairwell, used to hoist beer, is in sharp contrast to the new dot Comme Collection store, located on level four. Its pristine white interior, designed by Sibling Nation, also located within Curtin House, is definitely worth the climb up the marble staircase or waiting for the slow lift to arrive.

For founder of the dot Comme stores, Otto La Rosa, who is often photographed at fashion events in head-to-toe Walter Van Beirendonck, fashion, in particular vintage fashion from the likes of Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and of course Walter Van Beirendonck, has what some would say been an ‘obsession’ since he founded his first store 10 years ago. Well before then, as a teenager, he was already hooked. At 16, he purchased his first Issey Miyake coat and a year later La Rosa was off to Tokyo, seeking out his favourite Japanese designers. “My aunty used to import fashion from Italy and my parents had a children’s clothing store. So you could say I was surrounded by clothing from a very early age.” However, well before the fashion obsession set in, La Rosa was always collecting as a child, usually shells, rocks, coins and even playing cards.

Today, La Rosa is dressed in rather a restrained fashion, at least for him. He’s wearing black baggy trousers from Comme, a knitted jumper with boucle cuffs and collar by Van Beirendonck and a matching hat, including a pom pom on its crown. The only colour takes the form of a crocheted badge that forms part of the jumper and fluorescent laces in his sneakers.

In contrast, the archival men’s and women’s fashion found at dot Comme Collection is ablaze with rich colour and is a long way from the first few finds La Rosa bought in Tokyo all those years ago. Here, you will find one-off pieces that came from key collections from the 1980s, when Rei Kawakubo first presented her work on the runways in Paris, to the more recent past. La Rosa picks out from the racks a Comme des Garcons coat with rose motifs, selling for $4,500 (including GST). From Comme’s 2012 winter collection, one that received enormous praise from the fashion press at the time, this swing-style coat includes rounded sleeves and stiff selvage seams that give this piece a two-dimensional effect. Although La Rosa has 20 pieces from this collection, many in the same overscaled rose print, he is reluctant to part with any. “I’m only selling this coat as I have one that’s almost identical,” he says.

Another item that La Rosa gravitates to is a pleated top by Issey Miyake from his 1996 collection. For this collection, Miyake commissioned a number of leading artists to put their ‘stamp’ on his designs. For this pleated number, with its vibrant yellow pleated back, there’s a photomontage of a nude figure artist by the romanticist artist Ingres. However, contemporary artist Yasumasa Morimura has ‘layered’ the image with his own arms entwined around the model’s body.

Priced at $1,400, this piece was discovered online by La Rosa. “”I love the history of each piece, as much as the story each collection tells. It was the first time Miyake collaborated with artists in a ready-to-wear collection,” says La Rosa. Other items on display include a Junya Watanabe black top and matching skirt, with parachute detailing found on both. Designed for his 2003 summer collection, at $1,400 for the set, it is within reach of most people who value fashion.

Other pieces in the dot Comme Collection store can be purchased for considerably less. At the time of writing, there was a $400 Comme-Homme Plus velvet embossed men’s jacket, and also a Comme jacket with pinstripe panels for the same price. There was also a great leather jacket by Comme, circa 1989. Fitting this writer perfectly, it was difficult to put the $980 jacket back on the rack! Other items on display include a waxed fur coat for men from Comme’s 2010 collection and patchwork trousers in pink, yellow and green from Comme’s Spring-Summer 2000 collection.

For this writer, it wasn’t only the selection of clothes that created the adrenalin rush, but as importantly, the interior architecture by Sibling Nation. High gloss white painted floorboards and a white painted concrete ceiling, with exposed ducts and services, frame the built-in metallic display booths. The chunky columns that literally wrap around the entire space are, in fact, made from a material referred to as ‘truck tarpaulin’ (used to secure loads on the back of trucks). The only colour injected into the store is the furniture by Gaetano Pesce, comprising a resin-top table with a cloud-like motif and resin-backed chairs. A Memphis light by Marco Zanini from the early 1980s, in pastel hues, ‘crowns’ the display. And even when you think you’ve seen everything, there’s a whimsical rug in the change room designed by Edward Fields that extends from the floor and up the wall. “I gave Sibling a fairly open brief. I wanted a gallery-like space where I could exhibit key pieces on mannequins,” says La Rosa.

La Rosa has more than 3,500 pieces in his fashion collection, shared between the two stores in Curtin House and in a storage unit, not to be disclosed. His appetite for collecting hasn’t diminished since he started down this path years ago, continually hunting for those elusive pieces. “I’m looking for key pieces. But sometimes, it could be the smaller items that accessorised each outfit, whether it was a hat or belt,” says La Rosa. La Rosa not only attributes his success to his eye for fashion, but his ability to research each item, its provenance tracked through the media over several decades. He also sees his persistence as one reason for his extensive collection of high-end fashion by some of the world’s most revered designers. He recently purchased an early 1980s dress from Comme. The sack-like bleached dress, with flaps through the centre captured the freedom of fashion from that period. “The owner repeatedly told me she would never sell this piece, as it had sentimental reasons attached. But I kept asking and now it’s part of the archive,” adds La Rosa.

dot Comme Collection can be found on level four at Curtin House -252 Swanston Street and Dot Comme, the more affordable pieces on level three below.  0412 664 868   

Text by Stephen Crafti

Store images by Sean Fennessy 

Octavius portrait by Holly-Rose Butler.            

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