Jill Singer | April 01, 2011
As a luxury shoemaker, designing for Christian Dior, Hermès, and Balenciaga as well as launching his own line, Pierre Hardy has always been interested in contrasts. Matte with glossy, black with white, Velcro sneakers with price tags upward of $500. At a New York boutique for Pierre Hardy women's shoes and the equally covetable men's line, MR Architecture + Decor president David Mann took that idea to heart, mixing brawny materials such as blackened steel and cinder block with more luxurious silk velvet and bronze-tinted double-density glass.
Housed on the ground level of an 1870's carriage house that stood derelict for years, the 1,200-square-foot shop progresses from light to dark, airiness to intimacy. Unifying those opposites is perhaps Mann's most inspired idea for the store. Flooring, while always black, changes material for each of three zones. The entry, open to the elements when a garage door folds up, has planks of tinted concrete. Beyond an internal wall and door of glass, floorboards in the front of the boutique proper are ebonized oak. He replaced them, at the rear, with strips of dyed leather. "Although they all look the same, they allow you to try shoes out on different surfaces," he explains.
On meeting a visitor to the shop, the first thing he says is: "We think the most luxurious thing you can do with space is to waste it." He's referring to that concrete-floored entry, sparely furnished with just a single bench made from a blackened-steel I beam. When customers walk through the doorway in the glass wall, the shop is dim. He jokes that he specified as much track lighting as the New York State energy code allows, but the dusky surfaces—not only the floor but also the charcoal-gray walls—tend to absorb light.
The relative darkness is partly what creates that all-important sense of discovery. Also playing with that theme is an X-shape freestanding divider that creates four semiprivate quadrants for trying on shoes. This giant glass X stands toward the rear, where Mann installed panels of bronze-tinted glass in front of the original sidewalls. Depending on the amount of light behind the glass skin, it either offers views of the cinder block or brick behind or transforms into a mirror. The glass of a wall demarcating the back of the boutique is identical, so you can get a glimpse of the office and stockroom.
"Discovery" as a concept also governed Hardy's choice of the boutique's location, intentionally off the beaten path—he no doubt realized that the best parts of New York are often well kept secrets. His two Paris shops take a very different approach to real estate; they're in the Palais Royale and the Palais Bourbon. However, certain elements from across the Atlantic Ocean recur in this outpost, notably the I beams used for seating and display and the Hardy sketches used as artwork, blown up and backlit.
Hardy got his start as a fashion illustrator, and he produces new sketches for the boutiques each season. The sketch now on view in New York pays homage to the skyline with a jumble of verticals, a skyscraper motif that took footwear form as detailing on the ankle strap of a women's shoe. In step with the motif but inspired by an Antony Gormley sculpture, Mann created two display systems. "We were going to cast their square and rectangular volumes in concrete," associate Brandon Sanchez says. "But we ended up finding a fabricator to hand-trowel concrete over a wooden form. It's durable but very much crafted, which speaks to Pierre's philosophy."
Mann calls the entire project a dialogue: "Pierre elevates the mundane to art. We hope that we're doing something along those lines as well." It appears so. Hardy has already hired MR Architecture + Decor to convert the carriage house's upstairs apartment into a showroom.