Rei Kawakubo outfits her Comme des Garçons shop in Paris with a splash of red.
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Red. A red's red. Fire engine, bright lipstick, and nail polish red, perhaps the kind that legendary Vogue editrix Diana Vreeland proclaimed she could never be bored with. Such is the red that current-day fashion legend Rei Kawakubo has chosen for her newest Comme des Garçons shop, located in Paris. Following the blue of her Tokyo flagship and the white-on-white of her New York outpost, now—nearly 20 years after Bernard Tschumi won the competition to pepper the city's Parc de la Villette with his bright red follies—Kawakubo has given Paris its latest splash of this most wonderfully garish primary color.
The new store, consolidating the former Comme des Garçons men's and women's boutiques on rue Étienne Marcel, boasts 4,000 sq. ft. of retail space. In an otherwise white shell in an historic structure, red molded fiberglass—custom-made in England using over a dozen molds by Logical, a Brighton firm—glares and pulses off the walls, often curving onto the ceiling, only to reappear as display furniture in this "new building within an old building."
Surprise and contradiction have long defined the highly-acclaimed designer's work, and this space, designed by Kawakubo in collaboration with Takao Kawasaki and Paris' Architectures Associés, is no exception. Despite the store's attention-demanding hues, for example, it's completely hidden from the street and one has to actively seek it out (though Kawakubo is one of the few designers for whom the fashion faithful eagerly make such pilgrimages).
From rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, one enters a long corridor that empties into a courtyard. Once there, any clues of the store's existence are limited to the rectangles of red visible through exterior windows—in fact, the back of an interior fiberglass wall—a red sliding aluminum door that serves as the shop's entrance and, importantly, a pavilion.
At 500 sq. ft., the pavilion is a comparatively small and separate room located across the courtyard from the main retail space. Following a concept developed by Kawakubo, the English firm KRD designed it to provide a moment of respite and contemplation—free of products, food, and drink—with mechanically mobile cubic seats that gently revolve and, of course, floor-to-ceiling red fiberglass. Indeed, Kawakubo is also one of the few creative minds who could compel us to reevaluate a bright red room in subtle and meditative terms (though undoubtedly much of the pondering centers on whether one can really afford a $300 T-shirt).
"It symbolizes the heart and essence of the store," says Adrian Joffe, the managing director of Comme des Garçons' Paris office, who first discovered the space for Kawakubo. "I thought it might be appropriate for a perfume store perhaps, but Kawakubo didn't want anything there, she wanted it to be empty."
And why the use of red throughout? "She wanted something warm and strong," says Joffe, "and the red just looked beautiful in fiberglass. Once we saw it in that color, the decision was made." Alas, though they're of quite different personalities, perhaps Kawakubo would agree with the flamboyant Vreeland's proclamation: "Red is the great clarifier—bright, cleansing, and revealing. It makes all other colors beautiful."