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Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Accessory issue 03/26/2012

Architect Rafael de Cárdenas knows a thing or two about fashion and fashionable interiors. He worked in men’s wear and accessories for Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger from 1996 through 1999, before earning a master’s degree in architecture in 2002 and embarking on his current career.

This story first appeared in the March 26, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Among the projects at his firm, Architecture at Large, de Cárdenas designed homes for Parker Posey, Doutzen Kroes and Jessica Stam; interiors for Niko, the Japanese eatery in SoHo, and stores for Charlotte Ronson and aNYthing.


WWDAccessory asked de Cárdenas for his idea of a perfect handbag and shoe boutique.

WWDAccessory: Describe your perfect handbag and shoe boutique.

Rafael de Cárdenas: The design samples a geometry often implemented in our projects—namely, a regularized system of stacking cubes. These vary in material and suggest both function and scale by the nature of their stacking, i.e.,  one cube equals one seat, five cubes equal a full display table, and so on.
The stacking system speaks to both geometric and Cartesian order, but it also creates a labyrinth-like shopping experience, where the products are revealed as one moves through the space, heightening the desirability. Point lighting and merchandising [and] placing many objects behind glass multiplies this effect.

WWD: What was your design inspiration for the interior?

R.d.C.: To suggest a seductive environment by implementing elements that require one to move through the space. To create a shop that cannot be easily understood until it is occupied and used.

WWD: What did you think about while designing?

R.d.C.:  A sort of otherworldly landscape of fetishistic desire that is already imbued into women’s accessories, specifically shoes.

WWD: What are the most important design elements here and why?

R.d.C.: The cube is the single most important element. Through material variation, the cube is at once the display, the seating and the means of navigating the space. Everything in the shop is composed of it.

WWD: For retail, what key points should an architect consider?

R.d.C.: The product and how it is viewed are the most important points: how it is lit, objectified, and how it seduces the buyer.

WWD: How is creating a retail concept different from, say, a home, hotel or restaurant?

R.d.C.: They are all similar in that you are selling a lifestyle, but in the case of retail, you are also selling a product. The fantasy of the brand’s DNA should be evident in the shop environment, and that fantasy should be taken away in the bag, the tissue paper that wraps the product, et cetera.

WWD: What kind of shopping experience were you aiming for?

R.d.C.: A 1970s hotel nightclub in Tehran.

WWD: Do you think this concept can be applied to all accessories, or is it just suited for luxury
designer handbags and shoes?

R.d.C.: The concept here is simple enough to be applied to almost any type of product. It’s a basic reduction of the classic display case multiplied into a landscape.

WWD: Would you advise a special dress code for the sales staff?

R.d.C.: Leather aprons that suggest and mimic the leather articulation of the products.

WWD: Finally, what’s the ultimate pair of shoes you’d want to buy for yourself in this store?

R.d.C.: A pair of Prada Creepers.

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