A clear improvement
Vudafieri Partners's rooftop accessories showroom for Costume National, Milan, stands miles above the rest
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Ennio Capasa is a man of the south, born in the town of Lecce on the heel of Italy's boot. "There's lots of light there," he says. "It's very magical." The same cannot be said of Milan, where he set up Costume National in 1986.
In 1996, the fashion label moved to its present headquarters, a postwar red-brick warehouse in the city's southwestern Naviglio district. As soon as the detritus had been cleared out, Capasa replaced every single one of the building's 2,800 panes of glass and knocked down several internal walls, putting up transparent glass partitions instead. However, not even those improvements were sufficient to infuse the interior with what he longingly calls a "very Mediterranean light." Hence his recent decision to add a "glass house" on the roof: a 3,300-square-foot showroom for Costume National's range of urban-chic shoes, bags, belts, and jewelry.
With the help of Vudafieri Partners, he came up with a steel-framed oblong with brick end walls. The rest is glazed—and that includes the roof, imperceptibly sloped for drainage reasons. "In this area of Milan, all the late 19th-century workshops are glass, iron, and steel, so it seemed fitting to come up with something similar," says architect Tiziano Vudafieri.
Technically, the addition represents something of an exploit, as everything hangs from an 98-foot-long external I beam. Light regulation comes in the form of the roof's aluminum louvers as well as the west-facing wall's semitransparent white cotton drapery. "Otherwise, it would be too bright to work on summer afternoons," notes Vudafieri's partner, architect Claudio Saverino.
Sunshine isn't the only thing reminiscent of Capasa's native Puglia. Two internal patios are planted with typical Mediterranean loquat and European smoke trees, and a 3-foot-wide strip of cactus garden runs along one side of the space, behind a glass partition.
References to southern Italy also include the whiteness of the paint on the end walls and the epoxy resin of the floor—inspired by the region's whitewashed farmhouses. Meanwhile, two pools on the roof evoke the Ionian Sea. They're also redolent of Japan, where Capasa trained with Yohji Yamamoto.
Besides the poetic purposes of reflecting clouds and sky, the pools collect waste water from the air-conditioning system, whose ducts run beneath the floor of the addition. Also cleverly hidden are halide fixtures, bolted to the side of the roof's crossbeams.
For Capasa, it was important that the space be both "spectacular" and at the same time "quite neutral" in order to show off the accessories to best advantage. "We change our collections every six months, so there would be a risk of clashing with the architecture if it were too designed," he says. The staircase leading up to the addition introduces the pared-down aesthetic: white solid-surfacing treads and risers combined with a handrail in white-painted steel.
Inside the showroom proper, Vudafieri Partners built a solid-surfacing shelf along the cactus garden's partition, attaching this 72-foot-long fixture to the glass panels with short poles placed at 8-foot intervals. The shelf's matte finish contrasts with the glossy epoxy floor—an interplay that Capasa believes enhances the display of fashion accessories.
For spring-summer 2004, merchandise lining the shelf might have included a pink-and-green suede shoulder bag and pale blue strappy sandals—already replaced by fall-winter's Sheherazade-inspired necklaces and bracelets. Freestanding furniture changes even more frequently. Jean Nouvel's razor-sharp Less tables, set up during market weeks, are stored away again when the normal fashion cycle resumes. Usually, Capasa groups his own black lacquered tables with black velvet-covered love seats and ottomans that he originally designed two years ago for Costume National's boutique in Paris.
Identical pink seating joins the mix when Capasa holds special events, such as book signings and art exhibitions. He has also used the space for the company Christmas party and the launch of Costume National's first fragrances. An alluringly androgynous meditation on jasmine, hibiscus, and amber essences, the collection is named with characteristic simplicity: Scent.