L.A. to a T
Deanna Kizis -- Interior Design, 4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Palm trees are ubiquitous in Los Angeles. But that doesn't mean that fashion designer James Perse and Standard principal Jeffrey Allsbrook didn't have a protracted negotiation over the precise type of palm to plant in front of Perse's new store. "Yeah, James researched the tree," Allsbrook says with a laugh. "He knew exactly the species he wanted. So we had a gardener look for it and come back with photographs. Then James went to see the actual tree before purchasing it."
Known for glamorizing the quintessential SoCal T-shirt—as ubiquitous as those palm trees—Perse is the son of Tommy Perse, owner of the perennially chic West Hollywood boutique Maxfield. Before launching a solo label, the younger Perse made T-shirts and baseball caps for the Hard Rock Cafe and Donna Karan. Today, his high-end cottons exude a casual cool that's less Malibu tourist and more Malibu tycoon.
"The new store had to feel California—but sophisticated, not hokey," Perse says of the 2,600-square-foot Melrose Avenue building. The desired look was also to walk the line between commercial and residential.
Having already worked on his 1955 house in the Hollywood Hills, Allsbrook was familiar with Perse's tastes in "residential": recessed ceiling fixtures, poured-concrete floors, and walls of lacquered cabinetry to hide his belongings. Allbrook drew on those elements again at the boutique, using them to define the men's and women's areas.
On the more industrial-accented men's side, skylights punctuate the exposed ceiling beams, and the floor is poured concrete. The women's side features track lighting, a dropped ceiling, and oak flooring, chosen because it's warmer than maple. The feminine appeal is enhanced by a wall of stacking doors, which open to a bamboo garden.
On both sides of the store, Allsbrook had to overcome the major design problem of displaying clothes. He already knew how little disarray Perse tolerates at home, but both realized that merchandise tends not to move if it's folded neatly away in cabinets. What precisely the display fixtures would be made of was also a concern. "James really cares about the quality of materials. He doesn't like veneers or anything that looks cheap," says Allsbrook.
His solution for the men's side came right out of Perse's kitchen, where the architect had built a butcher-block breakfast bar. At the store, butcher block takes the form of three levels of shelving, running down a sidewall, and two oblong platforms in the center of the floor. Similar platforms reappear on the women's side, this time in lacquered MDF. For both areas, Allsbrook designed clothing stands in brushed stainless steel. The benches and a low table are also custom—Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, and friends were not welcome here.
Meanwhile, Perse reconsidered his marketing approach, so the fit would be cohesive. "For me, the store wasn't just about the architecture," he says. "It was reinventing the labels, the fonts we use, figuring out what level of service to provide. I had to look at myself and ask, 'Who am I? What am I trying to say?'" To make that final statement, Perse's own design team created logo skateboards and surfboards, along with customized photographs of misty beach scenes, a final expression of his simple—yet singular—interpretation of the California lifestyle.