Cities of Light *
Architecture & Associés helps Hedi Slimane bring a touch of Paris to his Dior Boutique in Tokyo
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
You can't get more classic than the Dior Boutique in Paris. The stately stone building on Avenue Montaigne positively overflows with all the ancien régime accoutrements: molded ceilings, parquet floors, wood paneling inspired by that at the Château de Compiègne. Pure Eighth Arrondissement. But not exactly cutting-edge Japan.
And certainly not the aesthetic espoused by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the experimental architects known collectively as SANAA. Nevertheless, it was SANAA that Dior hired to build a five-story, 15,000-square-foot flagship in Tokyo's Omotesando district—and Architecture & Associés, brought in for interiors, that had to reconcile old and new, Europe and Asia.
There was another contradiction, too. SANAA had worked on ideas of translucency and transparency, and the dramatic result boasts a skin of flat glass panels over acrylic thermoformed like the folds of a dress. Meanwhile, decision-makers at the fashion house insisted on enclosed spaces for the interior. "In terms of retail, the notion of moving through a succession of rooms sets Dior apart," explains Architecture & Associés principal Pierre Beucler.
The solution developed by Beucler and fellow principal Jean-Christophe Poggioli involved a series of freestanding rooms of 450 to 550 square feet. Though these enclosures present a shiny white lacquered exterior to the world, interior walls boast panels and moldings in the classic Dior mode.
Beucler and Poggioli proposed this concept for women's accessories on the ground level, women's ready-to-wear and jewelry on two and three, and the perfume and cosmetics department on four. The people at Dior loved the idea—and were willing to go even more radical in certain areas.
Taking that directive to heart, Architecture & Associés devised a high-tech screen to separate the two rooms of the accessories department. The divider comprises a row of floor-to-ceiling LED strips that cycle through a video of Dior's latest fashion shows—while graduated gaps between the slender vertical screens allow glimpses of activity beyond. The strips are backed in polished stainless steel, an important element throughout. "We played with reflection, so you don't know exactly what's real and what's not," says Poggioli.
The architects didn't abandon classicism entirely, however. In accessories and ready-to-wear, gray silk covers Louis XVI–style sofas and chairs, and Dior's traditional display niches remain, albeit with bright fluorescent lighting and white lacquered backs instead of a lining of silvery fabric. In the jewelry salon, a rug bears a panther pattern, one of the motifs employed by Dior haute joaillerie designer Victoire de Castellane.
Upstairs, the perfume and cosmetics department adopts a completely different theme: backstage at a fashion show. A wall of TV screens, displaying preshow images, stands alongside curved booths dedicated to consultations on makeup, nails, and skin care.
The funkiest experiences take place below ground at Dior Homme, fashion designer Hedi Slimane's personal territory. Here, a pair of "sonic arches," actually rectangular apertures, beckon the unwitting shopper to perch on the lower portion of their 8-foot-high frames—and respond with electronic music and a shower of dichroic crimson light when anyone does.
Artist Carsten Höller, commissioned to design fitting rooms, did his part to counter expectations as well. "The idea," he explains, "was a changing room with no mirror." Instead, a series of three-second stills, taken by four surveillance cameras, is projected on a wall of digital light-processing boxes.
The rest of the 1,100-square-foot Dior Homme boutique "multiplies dematerialization and reflection," as Slimane puts it, through more conventional strategies, primarily plays of black and white. Between the gleaming black Zimbabwe granite of the floor and the luminous white stretched canvas of the ceiling, clothing virtually seems to float. Graphic striped display walls combine alternating strips of black lacquer and shelving fronted in clear acrylic.
These display walls may look avant-garde, but their design sources could hardly be more traditional. On the most immediate level, the stripes pick up on one of Slimane's fashion signatures, a pleat derived from a cummerbund. On a more theoretical plane, he explains, "It's playing with perspective the same way that French 18th-century landscape painters did."
Landscape painting to LEDs—Beucler says he saw the project as a collection of "universes." To connect them stylistically and physically, Architecture & Associés's stairwell expresses the confrontation between the classic Dior heritage and the modern SANAA building. The walls of the stairwell bear traditional moldings, while pietra serena steps wrap around a seven-story glass tower punctuated at each landing by an up-lit acrylic display surface for assorted accessories.
The stair ascends from menswear in the basement, through the various women's departments, to an events and exhibition space on the fifth level and eventually to a roof terrace. This concrete-paved expanse is topped by an LED star, a contemporary version of Christian Dior's personal talisman. As fashion legend has it, he literally stumbled upon a carriage wheel's star-shape hubcap while walking down the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré on April 18, 1946—the very day he first met his longtime financial backer, Marcel Boussac.
Japan's first Dior Boutique, a Tokyo building by SANAA, is sheathed in glass panels over thermoformed acrylic. Just visible through this double skin is an interior by Architecture & Associés.
Lacquered strips and acrylic-fronted shelving compose display walls at Dior Homme.
In perfume and cosmetics, Hedi Slimane designed rotating makeup-display fixtures.
Segments of polished stainless steel ring the acid-etched glass enclosure of the department's facial room.
Polished stainless also appears in the form of a stationary makeup display.
Lacquer coats the walls and built-in table of a skin-care booth.
The perfume and cosmetics department's testing table stands beneath a polished-stainless fluorescent ceiling fixture. It was inspired both by contemporary operating rooms and by 19th-century compound lenses that physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel developed for lighthouses.
An advertising image, projected and reflected, defines the menswear boutique's entry corridor.
The stairwell combines Parisian wall paneling and a Tokyo-style glass display tower.
Dividing the two rooms of the accessories department, a screen of LED strips cycles through fashion-show footage.
Women's ready-to-wear features the nickel-plated display fixtures that Peter Marino + Associates Architects developed for the Paris boutique.
Enclosures for mechanicals and the stairwell interrupt the roof's concrete paving; the star was a Christian Dior talisman.
In Dior Homme, apertures framed in lacquer and polished stainless are fitted with sensors that set off music and light when a shopper sits in them.
Polished-stainless and backlit-acrylic benches and hanging fixtures complete the display vocabulary at Dior Homme. Flooring is Zimbabwe granite; the walls are lacquered.