Nick Leith-Smith has designed more than 60 retail outlets for Manolo Blahnik, from exhibitions to new-build pavilions, but it’s safe to say that that in their 20-year working relationship he’d never received a brief quite like the one for Blahnik’s new flagship in Tokyo’s famed Omotesando district: “Bauhaus Sanitarium.”
“I was immediately excited,” Leith-Smith says. “We embarked on a rigorous research process, and the brief came to life in the form of a design that was somewhat clinical, but minimalistic and functional.” The 1,800-square-foot space, contained with a concrete slab structure, incorporates a ground floor women’s department with a ceiling that needed to remain exposed, due to regulations. “It became an opportunity for us to play with the concept of utilitarian character of our concept,” Leith-Smith explains. “We found a solution that would also become a design feature in its own right, by using galvanized steel to form a slatted screen across the ceiling. The screens taper up to the glazed front façade to complete the retail space with dramatic effect.”
Upstairs has its own drama: A gallery corridor is bound by polished steel on one side, and plush ribbed padding on the other; elsewhere, a wall secrets a whiskey cabinet. But it’s the window displays that truly intoxicate Leith-Smith. “The suspended shelf system,” he says, “creates a playful illuminated structure. It works so beautifully with Manolo Blahnik’s collection. The craftsmanship provides a contemporary stage for the intricate colorful collections to be presented, and for customers to marvel at.” It’s enough to drive even the most devoted Bauhaus—and Blahnik—fan crazy.
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