The Retail System
Mayer Rus -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Fashion, as both a business and a topic for reflection, inevitably turns on a mundane conundrum: How is it that the constant recycling of timeworn elements is forever touted as the rebirth of the New? The last decade has definitely seen different approaches to the perennial problems posed by retail design. We have at this point thoroughly traversed minimalism, and even though there are serious practitioners of this style, as a widespread retail concept it can be exceedingly dull. "Mutant materials" may be faring no better. The truth about fashion is that everything new gets old almost instantly. Hence, the perpetual appeal of the classics—although a smart designer retooling of a venerable but dusty brand can refresh certain oldies-but-goodies with a bright modern veneer, at least for a while. In this special issue of Interior Design, the selected projects reflect a trend toward genuine diversity, encompassing stylish yet restrained makeovers of distinguished names as well as the continuing efflorescence of unusual materials in strange yet winning combinations.
In recent years, the stakes of retail design have been raised considerably. Three or four conglomerates now seem to run all the major fashion houses. As such, differentiation among labels is more important than ever, lest we find ourselves in a retail version of Logan's Run, in which everyone wears more or less interchangeable, body-conscious outfits. That differentiation extends to the design of the stores themselves, which in the interest of selling clothes also sell a look, a tradition, a lifestyle. Perhaps some of the projects we've chosen this month don't feature quite the level of grandiose ambition as Rem Koolhaas's forever promised and consistently deferred projects for Prada, as chronicled herein by Philip Nobel. Short of a wholesale reinvention of fashion and shopping, the designers and architects we've alighted upon this season offer serious, beautiful, sometimes fantastical responses to the various challenges presented by retail—above all, how to evoke memorably a specific label in different physical and social contexts.
I close with a passage from Roland Barthes' classic study, The Fashion System: "Imagine a woman dressed in an endless garment, one that is woven of everything the magazine of Fashion says, for this garment without end is proferred through a text which is itself unending." Ergo, the shops selling this endless garment are subject to the same laws of ceaseless reinvention. Plus ça change....