He Wears It Well
Arthur Casas dresses up Tokyo's Alexandre Herchcovitch boutique in a different outfit each season
Raul Barrenech -- Interior Design, 4/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Frocks and skirts of white garbage-bag material trimmed with eyelet. An otherwise dainty floral sundress made of latex. Beekeeper's hats with mosquito-netting veils. These are just a few of the looks that Brazilian fashion sensation Alexandre Herchcovitch has sent down the runways of São Paulo, Paris, and New York. The 36-year-old designer strikes a hard-to-achieve balance between avant-garde and commercially viable. Outside Brazil, his following is cultish. At home, he's a mainstream style star. He even redesigned the uniforms of McDonald's employees.
Herchcovitch had hired Interior Design Hall of Fame member Arthur Casas for four Brazilian boutiques, all at high-end shopping malls, before bringing him back for the first freestanding one, also the first outside Brazil. The location Herchcovitch picked for his new venture was Tokyo's Shibuya district, a trendy shopping area that's neither as self-consciously funky as the youthquake of Harajuku, with its XLarge and Undefeated stores, nor as posh as Omotesando, where haute-design flagships for Prada, Tod's, and other luxury labels have cropped up in recent years. This particular Shibuya building, though bland and boxy, occupied a prime corner—meaning that two facades could become billboards for the Herchcovitch brand.
Arthur Casas Architecture and Design covered the exterior with "wallpaper" in a bold black-and-taupe graphic derived from the current Herchcovitch collection and printed on the adhesive acrylic sheets often used for supersize ads wrapping city buses. The wallpaper even covers horizontal louvers that pivot open to reveal display windows or shut to conceal them, so the store reads like a giant gift-wrapped box. Every season, the patterns change along with the clothes inside. "It's like an advertisement without the advertisement," Casas suggests. "It's the language of Alexandre's clothes enclosing his place." The store name appears only in small, backlit letters above a window next to the front door—irreverently written last-name-first, as "Herchcovitch; Alexandre."
The architect did a minor gut job on the Tokyo-size interior, just 730 square feet divided between ground level, basement, and mezzanine. He improved circulation by relocating the staircase that connects the ground level (women's wear) to the basement (menswear, formerly storage). Another stair, hidden behind pine cabinetry, leads to the mezzanine, home to a tiny office. "The construction was very good and very quick. It's easier to work in Japan than anywhere else," he enthuses.
An oblong cashier's counter is surfaced in mirror-polished stainless steel, the same material cladding a nearby bench and a dressing room's sliding door. The metallic gleam accents a space that's otherwise almost entirely white, the better to show off Herchcovitch's offbeat fashion. One double-height sidewall is tiled in off-white porcelain squares, a treatment that gives a subtle nod to Casas and Herchcovitch's roots. "Tiles are very Portuguese-Brazilian," the architect says. "But our work is also very international, even a little Japanese." Tree-trunk stools dot the ground level and basement, while large unpolished pieces of stone are placed strategically for visual effect, like boulders in a Zen garden. "They're interesting, unexpected. I actually didn't add them just to make the Japanese happy," Casas maintains.
New concrete flooring flows virtually uninterrupted around the stools and stones, thanks to Casas' clever hang-bar concept. It couldn't be simpler: Run-of-the-mill fluorescent tubes are encased in hollow acrylic rods suspended on exposed cables from the ceiling, which reaches 18 feet on the majority of the ground level. "Hanging elements are one of the most important design choices in any store. They make the clothes more important," he says. Not only are these fixtures practical—easy to unplug and move around the sales floor—but they also cast a pleasant glow on the garments, something that came as a surprise to the project's lighting consultant.
As for shoes, belts, hats, and other accessories, they're displayed on foldout shelves that disappear into the tiled wall when not in use. "The idea came to me the first time I went to the site to meet Alexandre and the contractor. It just clicked after the initial sketch," Casas says. "In Tokyo, you can't waste any space at all."