It's fashion first at Groupe J.S. International, a garment-district showroom by Stamberg Aferiat Architecture
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
To an outsider, the fashion industry may look like all glamour, all the time. But underneath the stylish veneer is a business like any other, with the particular mission of selling clothes. The showroom where buyers come to view collections—and place orders—is the heart of any label. So it helps if the space is as sleek, smart, and well coordinated as the season's must-have outfit. '
Such descriptives can certainly be applied to the bright new garment-district quarters that Stamberg Aferiat Architecture designed for Groupe J.S. International, a Montreal-based manufacturer of women's wear. The vibrant colors and bold patterns of the company's five clothing lines look right at home in the airy 12th-floor space, a radical departure from the company's previous New York site, with its antique furnishings and paneled walls. "Our clothes have always been modern, but our showroom wasn't," says company president Mitchell Hops. In fact, he adds, it looked more like a law office than a fashion house.
"We had a vision of a SoHo loft," says U.S. division president Neil Federer, "not a typical garment-district showroom." Windows on three sides went far in creating that lofty feel, and Stamberg Aferiat kept the 9,000-square-foot space as open as possible.
To start, the architects analyzed how openness and privacy presented conflicting demands for Groupe J.S. International's 16 employees working on-site. "You might have buyers from Bloomingdale's next door to someone from Macy's. One client can't be able to see what the other is ordering," explains principal Peter Stamberg.
Accordingly, he and principal Paul Aferiat created seven open meeting areas, arranged along the space's perimeter. Each area centers on Eero Saarinen's Tulip table and chairs, and each is crowned by a floating acoustical panel upholstered in quilted pale gray Ultrasuede. "It's like an upside-down Mies daybed," suggests Stamberg. Windows run along one side of the rows. Opposite, drywall panels conceal clothing storage, so collections stay out of view until a salesperson presents them.
To achieve privacy between meeting areas, Stamberg Aferiat suspended 7-foot-square LightBlocks, cast-resin panels covered in dichroic film—the architects' most inventive idea. The screens are a translucent white for the majority of the day. When sunlight hits them, however, they shimmer in a moiré of violet or yellow, like pieces of fabric. "They look as weightless as clouds," says Groupe J.S. International creative director Sully Bonnelly. "Until you bump into one of them." (They weigh in at approximately 350 pounds apiece.)
The panels also function as a metaphor for the entire interior: neutral, but not. "The clothes should speak louder than anything else," says Hops. Still, the mostly white space does incorporate a few splashes of color—some subtle, some brazen, and all used selectively. Note reception's electric-green partition spangled with LightBlocks strips and the orange-painted rolling doors along a hallway of five private offices. A purple rug and the red seat cushions of Tulip chairs are the first things that buyers see when they step into a meeting area.
Stamberg Aferiat's color play is best seen in the "living room," a groovy corner where buyers—most of them out-of-towners—can enjoy a cappuccino to start the morning, check their e-mail between meetings, or listen to music after a long day of sales calls instead of heading back to the hotel. Seating includes the architects' own maple sofa, its cushions upholstered in a saturated-orange velvet, and a pair of Harry Bertoia's lounge chairs with violet cotton covers; even the white lacquered seat of Bertoia's bench is enlivened by the daffodil yellow of a square cushion. And all is set off by the deep plum of a round rug.
It's a striking combination—one that buyers are liable to encounter again, as Groupe J.S. International has hired Stamberg Aferiat to apply the same concept to London and Montreal office renovations as well as booths at international trade shows.