To Each His Own
At Christian de Portzamparc's acclaimed New York building, Hillier devises a separate identity for every LVMH company's showroom
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 4/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
How do you go about designing vertically contiguous but variously sized offices to house a global firm's several affiliates when, after the assignment is well under way, acquisitions of additional companies clearly demand more space than the already strained square footage allowed? At a minimum, it takes quick thinking. At its best, it needs experienced and creative talent to conquer spacial challenges and develop signs of individuality for distinct offices. Having a brilliant design architect to work closely with the architects of record is another asset. All this and more relates to the North American headquarters for Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, aka LVMH (arguably this planet's preeminent luxury-goods conglomerate, as few don't know).
In 1994, board chairman Bernard Arnault engaged Pritzker Prize winner Christian de Portzamparc from Paris to build said office tower in New York, having found a premium site—albeit a cramped 60 by 100 feet—and being keen to establish a consolidated presence in Manhattan. A local team from the design firm Hillier, headed by project principal James Greenberg, was hired as associate architect on the 24-story structure. The collaboration, which began in January 1995, evolved into Hillier being commissioned for the design of the interiors as well. Under the aegis of interior design director Barbara Zieve, space programming was developed in the fall of 1998. The New York flagship officially opened in November 2000.
Within those scant years, the designers faced potentially daunting realities. For starters, the very small foot plates become incrementally smaller on every ascending floor, shrinking from 4,980 square feet gross on the seventh level to 3,750 square feet on the 20th. In addition, LVMH's rate of company acquisitions had grown to the point of overflow during construction. The final list of nine New York divisions that relocated to the new headquarters included Guerlain, Louis Vuitton, Celine, Christian Dior Perfumes, Parfums Givenchy, and Givenchy, with offices spread over 16 floors. Lower levels house shops, a spa, and LVMH backup facilities.
Each division's domain consists of standardized offices—generally but not always in the rear—and, situated near the south-facing windows, differing "image areas" keyed to the pertinent brand's trademark. For these individually appointed identity centers, which comprise elevator lobbies, reception, retail buyers' showrooms, and offices for the division president, Hillier took cues from each brand's primary retail location in Paris. To integrate the front and rear zones into a cohesive whole, the firm developed a "systematic structure overlaid onto diverse and irregular floor plates," Zieve explains. In the absence of orthogonal lines, she elaborates, the approach provides "one interior architectural ordering system extending to ceilings, lighting, walls, finishes, and furniture." Variations within spatial compositions do occur, however.
Starting at Guerlain on the sixth and seventh floors, one is greeted by millworked reception areas with encaustic plaster-finished walls. Typical of Hillier's exacting detailing is the manipulation of wood grains, which run horizontally within the wainscots and vertically above them. Straight ahead are the glass-encased showrooms where new product lines are presented to retail buyers on triangular tables made of bleached-maple veneer and solid-maple cum brushed-brass strip inlay. Promotional imagery is an important part of the design scheme here as well. The end wall is formed of floor-to-ceiling layers of shot-blasted glass, which sandwiches abstracted drawings of perfume bottles. And a rotating selection of backlit images from recent advertising campaigns is displayed above undulating glass cases housing an array of beauty products.
Four floors are allotted to Louis Vuitton bags and baggage, jointly creating a neat tableau of woodworked planes—a design motif that brings to mind yesteryear's travel by sea. Built-in wall displays can be exposed or covered so that, on occasion, sedate attorneys or other non-hip visitors may meet in surroundings devoid of frivolous distractions. Talk about diplomacy and foresight.
One flight up is Celine's showroom. The emphasis here is on simple elegance, seen in exhibited women's wear, walls of wenge or sycamore veneer, and stained cherry floors. Christian Dior Perfumes (sans couture) covers two floors, ranging from a charming, understated reception room to an exuberantly decorated showroom mingling product samples and model pics. Givenchy, on the 20th, is distinguished for its cantilevered glass shelves—more for show than necessity, Zieve allows—and a steel-and-glass table adapted from a counterpart in the company's Paris headquarters. Corporate quarters and a conference center for intercompany meetings occupy the uppermost three floors. And set atop all is the double-tiered, 30-by-60-foot Magic Room, already established as one of New York's most applauded venues for special events.