Milan, Meet Moscow
Rebecca Flint Marx -- Interior Design, 4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
The iron curtain lifted, high fashion has descended. Thanks to newly minted oligarchs at home and an infusion of designers from abroad, Moscow has earned a reputation as a shopping mecca aspiring to rival Paris, London, or Tokyo. Chanel and Prada are just a few of the houses to have opened boutiques in the Russian capital, hoping to satisfy the Muscovite appetite for luxury brands. Byblos, the Italian clothing line formerly designed by Gianni Versace and Guy Paulin, joined their number earlier this year.
Although the task of opening Russia's very first Byblos location was a daunting one, the search for an interior designer was anything but. The company looked no further than Dix Design/Architecture. The firm—founded by American-born, Milan-based Sean Dix—had previously won acclaim for its elegantly irreverent Moschino boutique in Italy's fashion capital.
The Moschino interior had come with various problems specific to its existing architecture, such as an unwieldy column sprouting from the middle of the floor. Byblos presented the opposite challenge: There was no existing architecture—just the brief of creating a retail concept as dynamic as the surrounding shopping mall, a sleek, futuristic project in an upscale area.
"When we got our hands on the space, it was a big, boring concrete box," Dix recalls with a laugh. "On one hand, it was fantastic, because there was nothing strange sticking out anywhere. On the other hand, we needed to create some movement." His solution was to divide the 1,600 square feet into six roughly equal sectors, each framed by columns and hidden fluorescents to help pull shoppers' eyes toward the merchandise. The configuration of arches pays homage to Pier Luigi Nervi, the reinforced-concrete master who collaborated with Gio Ponti on the Pirelli tower in Milan.
Underscoring the interaction between curves and straight lines was of particular importance to Dix's aesthetic. The simple poured-concrete floor, for example, adheres to a strict grid. Meanwhile, thin bands of welded steel bend together into a UFO-like pendant fixture, and arced ribbons of light emphasize the surface of the wall panels, which owe their windswept texture to CAD-based software.
Dix had formulated the overall concept in advance. On-site, however, he found himself working without a blueprint more often than not, especially with regard to his materials palette. "I don't really look for a certain material," he admits. "When I have an idea for an effect, then I start figuring out how to make it. It's a harder but more satisfying way to work."
Display shelves developed from a vision of clothes floating on beds of light—a dreamy concept achieved after some logistical nightmares. Eventually, Dix solved the problem with a high-tech plastic traditionally used for office lighting. Coupled with a hidden fluorescent source and a diffuser panel, each shelf now appears to be an internally illuminated plane.
"It's like jazz," he says. "If you throw the beat off a little, it catches you. It gives you something you wouldn't really get with just a nice, smooth set of notes."