Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 4/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
From his home base on fashion's cutting edge, Yohji Yamamoto designs intriguingly provocative garments as fanciful as they are street-savvy. Dressed in one of Yamamoto's couture-quality crinoline gowns, you can go from a grand gala to an underground rock venue without stopping for a costume change.
His collections have always eschewed commercial formulas, and his retail strategy follows suit. At Meitetsu department store in Nagoya, Japan, for instance, his in-store shop dispensed with fixtures altogether and displayed clothes on the floor. Slightly less extreme, yet no less edgy, is his sliver of a New York boutique, envisioned by Junya Ishigami + Associates as equal parts shop and gallery.
A low table powder-coated white presents a lone pair of silvery men's shoes. A single neon tank dress poses in midair, hung from a slim powder-coated rail. Set at angles rather than rigorous parallel lines, these minimalist display fixtures encourage shoppers to meander through. They try on clothing in a pair of freestanding dressing rooms, fluted columns of cascading white polyester.
The design fulfills Yamamoto's request for a scheme that would assert its own quietly elegant presence yet respect the humble origins of the existing building. He decided that Junya Ishigami was the man with the vision to pull off just such a tightrope act after discovering his work at the 2006 Biennale di Venezia. "Yohji called me one day out of the blue," he says. "I've always liked his clothing, but I didn't have a deep understanding of the intricacies of his construction before working with him." Luckily, the architect is a quick study—and a provocateur in his own right, having spent four years at SANAA before launching his practice in 2004.
Like Yamamoto, Ishigami takes basic materials—in this case exposed brick, polished concrete, and tempered glass—and manipulates them in unusual ways. He also shares Yamamoto's disdain for convention. In a particularly bold move, the architect actually reduced the size of the existing building, a one-story triangle on a wedge-shape lot formed by three streets colliding at odd angles. He did this by slicing the structure in two, leaving nothing more than bare sidewalk and open air between a 1,300-square-foot boutique and a 500-square-foot stockroom.
"My challenge was to somehow transform an old building into a new piece of architecture," Ishigami explains. "Slicing off one end was my way of contributing to the fabric of a city where there's rarely an opportunity to work on freestanding properties." He also whittled the boutique's formerly squared-off rear elevation to a second sharp point and laid a brick outline of the original footprint in the concrete sidewalk, a ghostly nod to the past.
Large windows on every exposure forge a close connection between interior and exterior, clothing and city. Ishigami preserved the dimensions of the original window openings but inserted new frameless glass. "The the details are very carefully studied," he says. The glass was not only engineered to withstand wind stress but also has vertical butt joints made of clear structural silicone and is furthermore held in place at the top and bottom by concealed stainless receivers. The fishbowl environment allows clothing to be displayed in the round, showing off Yamamoto's attentive tailoring to shoppers and pedestrians.
Of course, such artistic displays can accommodate only a limited selection of merchandise, hence the stockroom. Although shoppers can't walk in, street-front windows offer a peek. Customers can even request pieces be brought over to try on. Watching the ever patient salespeople shuttle between the two buildings, carrying piles of volumetric hoop skirts and deconstructed tank dresses, is urban theater in itself—part fantasy, part street.