By  on June 12, 2007

MILAN — The prospect of a dozen tall, arched windows on a corner site in Milan’s “golden square” shopping district would set many fashion folk dreaming of display possibilities.

Not so Nicholas Ghesquière, whose new Balenciaga flagship here gives all that prime visual real estate to vertical gold blinds, as if some alien spacecraft alighted inside a Milanese palazzo, venting its intergalactic exhaust against the glass.

And that’s precisely the look he was going after.

“It’s the environment of a luxury house, but not a classic one,” Ghesquière said of the 4,300-square-foot unit, which opens today at 19 Via Santo Spirito. “It’s really that mix between history and modernity.”

To be sure, the modernity is obvious, from lighting fixtures that resemble satellite panels extending from a space shuttle’s robotic arm to display fixtures resembling shards of ice bursting through the floor. Ghesquière, who collaborates on store design with French artist Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, said high-tech and futuristic design elements are paramount for a brand prized for fashion experimentation.

Yet the designer is also very conscious of where the Milan store — Balenciaga’s first major retail statement since the company’s New York flagship bowed in 2003 — has landed, from the warm, muddy color palette to original hand-painted doors and ceilings that are a folksy foil for geometric mirrors and iceberg-like structures propping up Ghesquière’s handbags and shoes.

“Our elements are superpresent, but still you have to feel that you’re in Milan,” he explained in an interview. “It’s more of a salon spirit. We wanted to give something warm. With Balenciaga, there’s always the two sides, experimentation and patrimony. It’s also the first time we integrated historical elements within the environment of the store. I think there is a beautiful harmony between those two elements, which was not obvious.”

Although a long time coming, the Milan store broadcasts how far Balenciaga has come in extending its aesthetic into broad assortments of product, from extravagant runway gowns and costume jewelry to sunglasses and sharply priced ranges of pants and knits. The two-level unit culminates with the brand’s first VIP room: a cozy suite with a tricolor Pierre Paulin sofa and displays of expensive accessories set among Balenciaga Edition evening dresses, which are reedited vintage styles from the archives of the founding Spanish couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga.

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