Night Vision pix
Tag Front Architects goes clubbing at Dita Legends, a West Hollywood eyewear store
Debra Scott -- Interior Design, 2/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
At the Dita Legends eyeglass and fashion boutique in West Hollywood, Tag Front Architects faced most of one sidewall with irregularly stacked walnut planks. Photography: John Juniper.
The walnut-plank wall extends 35 feet. Photography: Eric Axene.
Since each acrylic display case has a front covered in optical film, which clouds when viewed at an oblique angle, the visibility of the contents changes according to the degree of rotation. Photography: John Juniper.
Though they look like rusty steel, the panels of the screen along the entry ramp are actually lightweight aluminum, which is oxidized in acid, then lacquered and waxed. Photography: John Juniper.
Hot-rolled steel covers the floor. At the perimeter of the troweled-plaster ceiling, a reveal is lit with fluorescents. Photography: Eric Axene.
Faux suede lines the back of the display niche.
A notch in the poured-in-place concrete sales counter features an aluminum logo plate with letters cut by a water jet. Photography: Farhad Samari.
Oxidized-steel slats screen the facade. Photography: Eric Axene. Center bottom: The sidewall's walnut slabs range from 1/4 inch to 21/2 inches in thickness. Photography: Farhad Samari.
This freestanding display unit is made of polypropylene acoustical panels. Walnut-plank product shelves cast shadows on the polyolefin wall covering. Photography: Farhad Samari.
The boxes are mounted on stainless-steel poles. Photography: Farhad Samari.
Everything is custom besides the leather-covered ottoman in the center of the space. At the rear is a backlit photomural of the '80's band Icon. Photography: John Juniper.
If Dita Legends resembles a nightclub, that's no accident. A long, narrow space outfitted in dark colors and edgy materials, the West Hollywood eyewear store was designed by Tag Front Architects, the partnership responsible for Geisha House, Nacional, and other Paris-frequented hot spots (as in Hilton). So hiring the hip firm was a no-brainer for Dita partners Jeff Solorio and John Juniper when they set out in search of a lounge-y ambience for their first retail outlet, a "concept store," Solorio says, "where buyers and stylists can also see that we have an appreciation of architecture and design."
Not merely a showcase for Dita's line of sturdy, oversize eyewear—it was already sold at design-savvy Barneys New York and worn by Brad Pitt, Jamie Foxx, and JLo—the store also carries skull bracelets, Japanese cult-brand T-shirts, and washed-leather tote bags. In fact, it's nothing less than the flagship of what Solorio and Juniper hope will become a global chain of "lifestyle" boutiques. Yet how to convey that upscale image on the notoriously downscale eastern stretch of Melrose Avenue, far from the famous street's high-style reaches, where fashion great Fred Segal presides?
Tag Front, founded by brothers Mandi and Mehdi Rafaty, is something of a gentrification specialist, having designed a number of trendy Los Angeles projects in dicey areas. Case in point: Paladar, a hopping Cuban restaurant that successfully replaced an adult-video store in the heart of Hollywood.
Previously a nondescript clothing shop, the Dita space required extreme measures. Tag Front gutted the one-story structure, then customized practically every detail. The makeover begins with the facade's single large display window, screened by widely spaced horizontal slats of oxidized steel. The elegant treatment telegraphs that Dita is in a higher league than neighboring businesses: a hippie-ish vintage-clothing joint and, ironically, a regular optician. (Think store windows full of heavy-metal Ts and artlessly arranged eyeglass frames.)
Beyond Dita's metal screen, a gently inclined ramp ascends into the store, which is a few inches above pavement level. The entire left-hand sidewall, next to the ramp, is faced in randomly stacked planks of walnut. This artful installation—an ultra-chic homage to a lumberyard—stretches almost all the way to the back of the shop. Halfway along, Tag Front cut out a 16-foot-long horizontal niche, backed in white faux suede and lit by fluorescents: a glowing display case for Dita's signature glasses. "Two or three people a day come in just to look at the wall," Solorio says. "Or even take pictures of it."
Along the other side of the ramp runs a partition built from rectangular metal panels, their large round cutouts allowing entering customers to look through. The metal appears to be rusted steel but is actually aluminum chemically treated to simulate that effect. As Mehdi Rafaty explains, steel would have been too heavy; aluminum reduced the weight of the partition by 70 percent, thereby eliminating the need for expensive structural modifications.
The lustrous hot-rolled steel panels on the floor are real. The ceiling, meanwhile, is hand-trowled plaster, with an 8-inch perimeter reveal and cove lighting that makes the whole surface appear to be free-floating. Because the steel and plaster are both reflective, they enhance the light radiating from behind the bank of acrylic display cases mounted on poles near the right-hand sidewall.
Each of the 30 acrylic boxes rotates on its axis, and each has a front covered with optical film that clouds over at an oblique angle, so the glasses and other accessories inside are either in sharp or soft focus, depending on the viewing position—adding interactive fun to the shopping experience. Rotating a box 180 degrees exposes an open back that allows customers to handle the merchandise, something that most are too timid to do.
Another hands-on feature are the display units in the center of the store. In what may be the project's most innovative materials move, the low-slung cases are made of polypropylene acoustical panels normally used in recording studios. The shiny dark-gray surface looks gravelly in texture but feels surprisingly smooth. As a contrast to the edginess of the cases, Tag Front placed an ottoman nearby; it's large, square, and covered in mellow-looking leather.
The industrial aesthetic returns with the poured-concrete sales counter. Behind it, a backlit photomural of the '80's band Icon strikes a heavy-metal note. "I used to come to Melrose as a kid to get punk gear," Solorio recalls. As Mandi Rafaty puts it, "The photomural captures the image of the company and connects with the area." Foot traffic on the block may not yet be of the well shod variety that can afford Dita's prices, but the partners have no worries: Tourists and San Fernando Valley kids are not the target customer.