At the Marni boutique in Tokyo, Sybarite UK played with bewitching signature elements
Benjamin Budde -- Interior Design, 10/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
At its original freestanding Tokyo location, Marni had a good thing going. Sure, most people couldn't figure out how to get inside at first. But the bulging stainless-steel storefront and single tiny peephole of a window eventually lured almost everyone in the tony shopping district of Aoyama to take a peek. Designed by Sybarite UK, an architecture practice formed by two former Future Systems staff members, Torquil McIntosh and Simon Mitchell, the shop riffed on the signature sky-blue walls, stainless-steel ceilings, and sweeping display fixtures that Future Systems had developed to introduce Marni to the Tokyo retail world at in-shop kiosks in three department stores.
For the next generation of Marni boutiques, the Italian fashion label turned again to McIntosh and Mitchell. Sybarite's interior is rooted in the initial design concept while establishing a new aesthetic language. Likewise, Marni is known for stepping out in new directions that nevertheless reflect its past. Writers with more agile pens than this one have been flummoxed by trying to describe the Marni look: PVC and nylon, tunics and ski boots, belts and vests. Capturing the latest Tokyo interior as a sum of its individual parts is a similarly difficult task. Imagine walls in hard concrete and high-gloss aubergine vinyl, giant round rotating platforms and small round fans blowing air up women's skirts—on the displays, not the customers. Yet, just as Marni outfits come together with a girlish wit and playfulness, the Marni interior coalesces with an almost laddish charm, replete with a wink and nod that tell us Sybarite never had any doubt.
Previously home to a Joseph boutique, the vaguely L-shape 3,100-square-foot space—also in Aoyama—is broken up into three levels, each defined by theatrical display fixtures. The mezzanine and second floor both feature rotundas dominated by the rotating display platforms, apparently a hit with shoppers' infants. Ringing the mezzanine's rotunda, shoes line the shelves of oval niches lined in ultrasoft beige leather. For the second floor, Sybarite developed a wall of illuminated display cases, glowing white plastic boxes covered by larger ones of clear acrylic. If it weren't for the accessories enshrined inside, the composition could read as something-or-other inspired by minimal master Donald Judd.
Marni designer Consuelo Castiglioni was "very excited to introduce movement into the store," McIntosh says. Hence the white toadstoollike fans that form a line down one leg of the L on the second floor. Dresses hang above each fan, which fill them with air and volume—bringing a " 'dancing' life into the display," as Castiglioni sees it.
With display fixtures doing so much to define the identity of the store, carrying over Marni's signature stainless-steel rails posed the most obvious challenge in defining a new visual language. Whether in a freestanding boutique or a shop-in-shop, these fixtures tell us that we are in a Marni space. Sybarite effectively integrated the rails not by raising the tone of the interior to the same soaring level but by grounding them in confidently cool surroundings. McIntosh and Mitchell say that, ironically, it's the juxtaposition of these very opposites that creates opulence. Where the previous environment looked at luxury through a lighthearted lens, this one almost translates consumerism into brutalism. And nowhere does the new tone resonate more strongly than in the VIP fitting room, a concrete cell of almost monastic austerity. Aside from those stainless-steel rails, the room provides little more than a mirror and leather rugs to the fashion-loving sybarite.