Peter Marino updates the original Paris boutique with elegance—and cheek
Mallery Roberts Morgan -- Interior Design, 2/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Make your customers look good, and they'll come back for more. No one grasps that better than Peter Marino—who recently revisited Christian Dior's Paris flagship, which he'd renovated 10 years prior for the fashion house's 50th anniversary. "Peter understands the company and its evolution. He also understands the culture of couture, luxury, and merchandising. That's not always the case with architects," chairman and CEO Sidney Toledano says. "If you're buying a $1,000 bag, the atmosphere has to be right."
As Marino himself puts it, "Raising the bar of luxury is what couture brands are doing now." He should know. That first Dior job led to an enduring collaboration, with the firm now known as Peter Marino Architect designing other boutiques worldwide. Marino also counts Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Fendi among his clients. "I wouldn't call this Dior a new retail concept, but it's a new kind of decor for selling clothes," he continues. That's made possible by the fact that Marino employs a veritable task force devoted solely to researching the latest in lighting, textiles, and materials. Awash in finishes and craftsmanship that some might reserve for deep-pocketed residential clients, the 12,000-square-foot renovation has the feel of a luxury apartment.
Dior's building is actually an 1867 mansion on the Eighth Arrondissement's fashionable Avenue Montaigne, just off the Champs-Elysées. The house was built for Comte Walewski, a Polish-born French statesman and minister who also happened to be an illegitimate son of Napoléon I. In 1947, Christian Dior moved into the ground floor and famously painted the entire five-story facade pigeon gray. Marino's face-lift was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Dior's New Look as well as the 10th anniversary of John Galliano's accession to the throne, both celebrated at a glittering gala attended by Sharon Stone and Elton John.
Marino removed walls and stripped out worn carpet, then proceeded to juxtapose elements from the rich history of Dior with the theatrical spirit of Galliano. The architect treated each department like the salon of a countess, even commissioning furniture and site-specific artwork worthy of any first-rate private collection—a first for a Dior retail space. "Forget the dollar-per-square-foot approach. These pieces will go up in value," Marino told hesitant executives. Take Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne's borne of giant silver-plated bronze ginkgo leaves. Encircling a massive "bouquet" of bona fide flowers, refreshed weekly, this whimsical seating design occupies the center of the double-height entry rotunda. Its upper reaches are ringed by what might be traditional casement windows (very Dior) except that, instead of glass, they frame plasma screens showing video art (very Galliano).
Text installations of puffy-looking mirror-backed molded glass appear in three high-profile locations. "This embodies Dior for me. Luxury houses should reconnect with the tradition of artistic patronage," Marino says. (So should architects. Putting his money where his mouth is, he's not only a collector himself but also, via his firm, the sponsor of this year's Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, BB5.) An endearingly cartoonish oil portrait of Christian Dior, painted back in 1954, hangs above the evening-wear salon's marble mantelpiece, flanked by sofas upholstered in gold-stamped gray velvet.
"Dior should just own gray," Marino says, noting that he reinterpreted the color of the landmark storefront in 56 shades throughout the interior—right down to the tone-on-tone silver leopard-print carpet and the silver wire and nylon mesh surfacing display cases. Additional updates of Dior classics include a dressing room draped in a silvered linen that's woven into the label's emblematic cane pattern. A Louis XVI–style side chair with a medallion back, a Dior trademark, has been reborn in 36 variations. One sports the dangling D of the Lady bag, a favorite of Princess Diana; another sprouts ostrich feathers; still others are embossed with silver leaf or covered in a patchwork of gray leather.
An avowed Francophile, Marino cites Jean-Michel Frank and Pierre Chareau as major influences when it comes to furniture. That love clearly extends to present-day French designers as well. The shoe salon alone boasts two notable pieces. André Dubreuil's steel console, an arachnid hybrid of surrealism and art nouveau, backs up to a mirrored wall. Coolly Cartesian by contrast is the evening-wear salon's marble-topped desk by Hervé Van der Straeten—who, coincidentally, designed the bottle for the Dior perfume J'Adore.