Sean Dix updates Moschino's Milan boutique with a joyous, fun-poking, and slightly zany air
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 4/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Mention Milan, and La Scala may come to mind. Or perhaps Moschino—another world-famous name associated with its own blend of opera buffa and commedia dell'arte. Composed and orchestrated by Sean Dix, an American designer working in Italy, Moschino's Milan shop is an imaginative reinterpretation of the legacy left by founder Franco Moschino, the maestro famed not only for his high-style (and high-price) clothes but also for his pungent humor and frequent potshots at the fashion crowd—makers and wearers both. His memory lives, thanks in part to Dix's irreverent design.
Located in a century-old multiuse structure on Via Sant'Andrea, the street-level retail space was already in disrepair when Moschino acquired it in 1987. Some 15 years later, a total renovation was needed. The company's decision makers agreed that the interior also lacked the sort of lighthearted, happy, and fun-poking air with which Dix had imbued a cheeky trade showroom for Moschino nearly three years before. (See "Pride and Parody," April 2000.) On the strength of his skilled and unorthodox approach in the previous project, Dix was chosen to overhaul the Moschino flagship, with JoAnn Tan of Moschino collaborating on project development
The assignment, to be the prototype for the house's global shopping hubs, was tantamount to being handed carte blanche, Dix notes. He was merely expected to do the unexpected and, as before, to recapture the beloved founder's presence, albeit in a subjective fashion. Dix began by "ripping out everything" or, as he sheepishly tells it, knocking down—in his debut as architect—more walls than he built. Actually he built none, leaving only a shell that, nevertheless, required significant foundation work such as installing huge I beams in the basement and ceiling. Along the street front, Dix replaced one small entry door and one blocked window with three 9-by-14-foot apertures. Opening up the facade and the interior put everything within sight, creating a welcoming mood.
Impossible to miss upon entry is a giant "support column" that rises like a bulky building block through the lowered ceiling at the store's midpoint. Measuring 6 by 10 by 14 feet, the structure is made of layers of red fabric—estimated to run about 20 miles if laid end to end. Nearby stand a red bench and stools also made of the piled fabric as well as two highly unusual display tables. One has a black marble top etched with a white lace pattern; another is of plain wood but is draped with a gauzy cloth bearing a precise drawing of a fancy, baroque table.
Vying with the fabric-layer pieces for showstopper status, a 50-foot-long ecru wall is covered with raised white letters spelling out Hans Christian Andersen's entire tale of the emperor's new clothes, in Italian and English (but not in Danish). The famed story's irony and sarcasm strike Dix as emblematic of the iconoclastic mood he chose for his prevailing theme. He also cites Alice in Wonderland to justify his "playing with scale," examples of which include the immense, 47-inch-square floor tiles and oversize, 14-foot-tall dressing room doors. There's no credit for Cinderella, however, with respect to the two grand chandeliers embellished with 90 glass slippers.
Other eccentricities? Oh, yes, many. Moschino logos made of inconspicuous transparent lettering appear on the bottom corners of the storefront windows. Ceiling lights hung in the changing rooms have shades of wound twine held together by resin. Adding a touch of gold to the strong strokes of regal red is a wall surfaced with countless dressmaking pins, creating the illusion of sun-dappled fur. "Minimalism formed from millions," quips Dix. The wall abutting the rear courtyard appears to be made of lace but is actually a concatenation of interlocking laser-cut wood pieces perforated to admit sunlight. Rather than fill in the naturally pockmarked Italian travertine flooring, our creative contrarian applied transparent resin, thus preserving the cavities while assuring cleanliness. As a foil to the overall whimsicality, Dix then selected unobtrusive display elements, including lateral and frontal rails of brushed stainless steel.
Invaluable to the job's success, the designer stresses, were the multitalented contractor, team leaders, and crews, whose synchronized work schedules made it possible to complete demolition and construction within 64 days. Best of all, the project actuated a fast follow-up job: A second Moschino store, practically around the corner on Via Spiga, was finished early this year. The second location sells Moschino's other lines, including Cheap and Chic. "It's cool," Dix declares, "seeing one's work on two of Milan's three fashion streets."