Head Over Heels
We flipped for Viktor & Rolf's upside-down Milan store by Tettero and SZI Design
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 6/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
In 1999, clothing designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren presented their entire fall collection on a single runway model, revealing 10 outfits in layers, like a Russian doll. At the fall 2005 show, a boudoir theme involved dresses resembling bedcovers, with necklines that mimicked turned-down sheets; roughly every other model sported a pillow strapped to her head.
When you've got that kind of flair for theatricality, no conventional store environment can possibly measure up. Or, as Horsting puts it, "Shopping becomes boring." So he and Snoeren decided to turn convention on its ear, coming up with a truly heady concept for the first Viktor & Rolf boutique—a store that appears to be upside down.
After landing the commission for the 750-square-foot Milan project, architect Siebe Tettero, principal of his namesake firm, collaborated with designer Sherrie Zwail, principal of SZI Design, both spending days craning their necks to peruse ' book illustrations and computer images wrong-side up. What would an inverted salon look like? How about turning a doorway upside down?
For the illusion to be effective, Tettero and Zwail ultimately agreed that details typically associated with ceiling versus floor would need to be plentiful—minimalism was out. "People have to be familiar with the visual vocabulary, so everyone recognizes things as being inverted," Tettero explains. "If you just turn a plain rectangle upside down, nothing happens."
Neoclassicism fit the bill. First, the style's pilasters, capitals, cornices, and arches are practically universal. Second, their inverted profiles dovetail with Viktor & Rolf's design philosophy: In Horsting's words, they "twist traditional elements or make them collide."
Literally reversing the iconic postwar couture fashion house, Tettero and Zwail began at the front door. The knob, nearly eye-level, gives the first clue that the entire door is upside down. Look up and you'll see the doormat.
Inside, ceilings in two elegantly gray-painted salons are herringbone parquet "floors," while the store's actual epoxy- resin floor imitates a plain white ceiling. (The duo had initially considered faux-plasterwork medallions but dismissed them as unsafe underfoot.)
Dividing the two salons—one all women's clothes and accessories, the other unisex—a central corridor is lined with upended archways. These form curved seats for shoppers made lightheaded by the scene.
Furniture and millwork take their cues from the architecture. Flanking each salon's topsy-turvy ensemble of mantelpiece and mirror, neoclassical side chairs jut down from overhead. More appear in fitting rooms, where the chair backs act as hooks for clothes hangers.
Chairs are screwed to the ceiling, but Tettero and Zwail used various methods to attach the other hanging elements. In the fireplaces, for example, wire secures logs to 19th-century andirons. In the unisex salon, bottles of Viktor & Rolf's Flowerbomb perfume are glued upside down on shelves. (A hidden drawer camouflaged by molding holds real bottles for sale.)
A white-glazed cabinet inspired by a Swedish 18th-century tiled stove houses a flat- screen TV that plays a loop of Viktor & Rolf fashion shows—upside down, of course. Tettero borrowed molding details from both a Swedish villa he'd seen in a book and his own living room in Amsterdam. They're rendered in painted MDF. Sprouting from the floors in display windows are gilt chandeliers with crystal droplets, interpretations of an 18th-century example that Tettero saw in a museum in the Dutch city of Gouda.
Lighting proved more difficult. "There was no way we could put anything on the ceiling," Tettero points out. After some research, though, he and Zwail discovered that shelves in English libraries were traditionally lit on the underside. Hence the fluorescent tubes that now down-light display shelves and niches where the clothes hang on rails.
At the suggestion of a feng shui expert, Zwail discreetly embedded a few crystals in the center of the white ceiling-cum-floor. "They'll balance out any bad energy generated by building the store upside down," she explains. Still, preferring not to take chances with the essentials, she and Tettero left the clothing, cash register, and restrooms right-side up.