By  on June 13, 2008

The last thing Raf Simons wanted for Jil Sander's new Howard Street store in Manhattan was to plop an art installation in the middle of it.

Instead, with the help of artist Germaine Kruip, the Jil Sander creative director has created an ever-changing space with a wall of rotating mirrored panels and three mirrored dressing room cubes that continuously reflect the natural light streaming in from the boutique's bank of windows. In this flexible environment, shoppers can't help but see reflections of themselves at varying angles. The idea of movement appealed to Simons, who was leaving his retail imprint for the first time.

Simons said he wasn't driven by what other designers are doing, but was motivated to work with Kruip on the 6,300-square-foot space. Two years ago at the Armory art show, the designer was drawn to one of her pieces, "Counter Composition II," a mirrored mobile that disturbs daily light, and bought it on the spot. As it turned out, she used to live in Antwerp, Belgium, as he does now, and they knew each other through mutual acquaintances. His purchase, which now rests in his Antwerp home, borrows from De Stijl, a Dutch artistic movement led by Theo van Doesburg.

"Everything for me is about light and movement, bringing a certain energy without being wild. Everything has to be harmonious sliding into each other," he said. "This is not the typical way of showing product in a store. The challenge was to see how we could deal with that in a different way."

Rather than have shoppers see everything at a glance, the store is designed to gradually string them past the six mannequins standing single file in the center of the main floor, toward Kruip's rotating reflecting wall of mirrored panels and up the marble stairs to peruse the black racks with perfectly appointed ensembles beneath Serge Mouille's black mollusk-shaped lighting fixtures.

Creating a space with equal parts openness, privacy and loads of light is no easy feat, but Simons appears to have pulled it off. "We wanted to see how we could bring a certain intimacy to things," the designer said.

Three changing rooms, which look more like art installations, are interspersed in the center of the room and bounce light around the second floor. So much so that the interplay has even surprised Simons, who said he was at a loss for words when he first walked into the store on Wednesday. It opens to the public today."We also designed certain things I didn't imagine — how the store transports images," Simons said. "When movement is created in a very stationery space, it completely transforms the space."

And that idea of movement and energy is an extricable element of fashion. "I like things to be brought together as long as they feel natural," said Simons, who initially studied industrial design before pursuing a career in fashion. "Anything having to do with creation, I am interested in — design, art, architecture, music."

Before deciding on the store's design, Simons got to thinking about buildings that have stood the test of time, such as the Mies van der Rohe-designed Barcelona Pavilion. "With Jil Sander, the interesting thing is we want to certainly keep the classicism, but without being retro or historical," Simons said.

Wanting to use as few materials as possible, Simons decided on Carrara marble, wax-treated steel and Corian — "pure materials that don't show off like gold or chrome." Elements of the store's design will be incorporated into other Jil Sander stores. The dressing rooms, like everything else on the second floor, were designed to be moveable, a feature that Simons plans to exercise frequently. Video monitors may be used down the road, and Simons has designed 50 female mannequins so a runway collection can be shown in the store, if he is so inclined. "We do a show for a very limited number of people — press and buyers. But the real buyer [the consumer] has no confrontation with the show," he said.

Simons also has collaborated with two artists for his namesake company's two new stores, which will bow in Japan in September. Sterling Ruby is working on the Osaka location and Roger Hiorns will do the same in Tokyo. Art in general has long been an inspiration for Simons who, having blanketed Art Basel earlier this month, planned to hit some Manhattan galleries this week before heading back to Europe.

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