What does the sci-fi film "Mission From Mars" have in common with a quintessentially British thoroughfare?
Nicolas Ghesquière is about to show London with his arresting new Balenciaga flagship, which opens today and draws a link between the elegant brick facades of Mount Street and the fourth planet from the sun.
"We wanted something quite orange," said Ghesquière, who collaborates on stores with French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and lighting designer Benoit Lalloz. "I wanted an atmosphere [that was] very cozy, luxurious and warm."
Not to mention transporting — even teletransporting — considering all the intergalactic elements.
A gleaming white spacecraft-like structure sporting a giant "B" logo dominates the 1,900-square-foot, one-level boutique with metal clothing racks radiating out from the octagonal structure like landing supports. From the ceiling sprout articulated metal lighting fixtures that would look at home on a satellite.
Echoing a brand known for fashion experimentation, high-tech and futuristic elements dominate the store, from white padded fitting cabins that would be suitable in zero-gravity atmospheres, to what Ghesquière and Gonzalez-Foerster dubbed "musical forests." These unusual stands of multicolored metal pylons, fitted with motion detectors, project video images and emit sounds.
"When you move in the store, it's quite an experience," Ghesquière said, flashing a big smile. "One [forest] might be silent, while another one is playing."
But the designer, who is adamant that each Balenciaga unit be unique and in tune with its surroundings, did not forget to add a British accent.
This comes primarily through the floor, a cacophony of patterns, colors and textures that is a nod to jumbled British decorating, in general, and the classic TV series "The Avengers," in particular.
"It's probably the clearest reference to an English taste, or at least what French people consider English taste: that mix of bright colors, optical patterns," Ghesquière said. "In that futuristic setting, the patchwork of carpets is very Seventies English TV series....The textures are really, really important."
Among materials employed are lacquer, wood covered with silver leaf, gold-toned metal grills and volcanic rock showing different layers and colors of sediment.Given the boutique's "medium" dimensions — roughly half the size of the Milan flagship that bowed last year — Ghesquière decided to sell only women's ready-to-wear and accessories in the London store. Still, assortments will be fashion-forward, with lots of runway looks.
Ghesquière cited strong demand for its Edition lines of jewelry and rtw in the U.K., which ranks as the company's number-three market in Europe after France and Italy.
"In Europe, London is superstrong. It's the city where we are the most distributed in Europe," he said, noting that many women have already come knocking — decked out in the latest Balenciaga looks — asking when the store might open.
The fast-growing brand, part of Gucci Group, wholesales its rtw and accessories to about 15 doors in the U.K., including Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges.
Ghesquière said he was attracted to Mount Street's charming 18th-century architecture and the mix of antique dealers and art galleries. Signage is discreet; there are no window displays and the facade was kept intact at what was formerly a bank. Circular glass bricks in the pavement over the basement will emit orange light at night. "That's the way we are showing our presence," Ghesquière said.
But the new space is hardly a "destination" shop like Balenciaga's raw, industrial New York flagship in the Chelsea art district. Mount Street is undergoing a retail renaissance with the arrival last year of Marc Jacobs and, coming soon, Christian Louboutin and others.
"We don't want to be cool just to be cool," Ghesquière said. "[The London location] is personal and particular, but it's a place where people will go to shop."
Ghesquière plans to fete the London shop with an in-store cocktail and private dinner Feb. 12 during London Fashion Week.
Next up for Balenciaga is a flagship in Los Angeles, slated to open in March, and the designer continues to hunt for other locations, including for a flagship in Tokyo and possibly a second location in Paris.
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