Monica Khemsurov | April 01, 2011
The Bund, on Shanghai's riverfront, is a boulevard disproportionately blessed by the design gods—it's lined with no fewer than 52 colonial-era landmarks in such varied architectural styles as Gothic, neoclassical, and the city's famed art deco. So when the owner of Ports 1961 asked Winka Dubbeldam to transfer the look she'd developed for the women's-wear brand's tiny London shop to a 2,400-square-foot boutique on the Bund, she reimagined her scheme in homage to the historical site, more specifically a hulking beaux arts edifice built for a British trading company in the early 1900's. Whereas the London space is relatively restrained, walking into the Bund boutique's undulating interior is a truly singular experience.
It starts at the entry with the 12-foot-high antique Chinese doors installed by Dubbeldam's firm, Archi-Tectonics, and continues with the rugged paneling that now wraps the interior. Reclaimed from a demolished house, the planks were CNC-milled to produce a contoured topography, then oiled to a silvery finish that exaggerates their texture. The treatment works on multiple symbolic levels. While nodding to the heavy rustication of the granite outside, the roughness is also like an oyster shell surrounding the pearly surface of the polished limestone floor. Dubbeldam calls the juxtaposition of textures "perfect for Ports, because the clothing emphasizes the relationship between loose, flowing moments and structural lines that beautifully accentuate the body." An innovative use of textiles and an affinity for layering are signatures of Ports 1961, a Chinese-owned spin-off of a Canadian brand. Important reference points include Jil Sander and Michael Kors.
The bulk of the collection hangs from twisted bars along the perimeter, but key looks from each season are showcased at a pair of back-to-back display islands, their aesthetic inspired by the futurism of late deco. Each island is anchored by a structural column in fiberglass-reinforced cast concrete that flows outward at the top to form a canopy. From the columns' bases, similar shapes extend as low platforms coated in a silvery epoxy. Canopy, column, and platform together create a frame for mannequins suspended in midair, slowly rotating on chains as air currents pass by, so shoppers get a 360-degree view of the clothes. "Whatever we put on those mannequins, people instantly buy it. There's something magical about them," Dubbeldam marvels. And something surreal about the lily-pad shapes sprouting from the platforms beneath—actually small pedestals for displaying individual accessories.
She cast the pedestals in aluminum and finished them and the hang bars in nickel chrome, its golden gleam chosen to highlight the line's luxury status. Adding to the sense of weightlessness, shelves of clear acrylic are suspended on lengths of white gauze at the front and rear. (Gabellini Sheppard Associates designed these fixtures three years ago for Ports 1961's shops in Los Angeles and New York.)
To enhance the ethereality of the Shanghai boutique, Dubbeldam relied extensively on lighting, most of it indirect. In ceiling coves and underneath the islands' platforms, LEDs emit a warm yellow to complement the nickel-chrome finishes. "The subdued accents are like color therapy," she notes. Even with the more directly focused lighting, such as the ceiling spots aimed at the floating mannequins and the up-lights trained on the lily-pad pedestals, she made sure to recess the fixtures.
The only places with a darker, more intimate feel are the fitting rooms, where the overall luminosity gives way to taupe carpet and Venetian plaster, and softer lighting, on dimmers, enhances the couture experience. "If you're trying on a cocktail dress, you can re-create an evening atmosphere to see how you'd look," Dubbeldam says. As customers gaze at themselves in the mirror, companions wait comfortably in an anteroom where a gold Ports 1961 polyester blend upholsters a feature wall and a small TV and vintage-style wooden chairs offer their restorative powers. Out on the Bund—that mercantile powerhouse turned shopping mecca—Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana await.
David Barr; Thomas Barry; David Schragger; Victor Ortega; Hira Sabuhi: Archi-Tectonics.