By and  on April 8, 2005

MILAN — Leave it to Viktor & Rolf to literally turn designer retailing on its head.

The Dutch design wizards’ first signature shop just opened here with an upside-down decor that has oak parquet on the ceiling and chandeliers sprouting out of the floor.

“We wanted to give a new perspective on a shop,” said Viktor Horsting who, with Rolf Snoeren, designs one of the most conceptual collections in the business. “You really enter into a surrealistic world, the Viktor & Rolf world, where nothing is what it seems to be.”

Architect Siebe Tettero, who worked with the two designers on their stately new headquarters in Amsterdam, said that, when they approached him with their need to “twist the classic,” he opted to revisit the neoclassical style, which he described as the most “recognizable and familiar” design.

“There is a whole world of Nordic, Dutch and Swedish 18th-century variations on this style,” said Tettero.

Accordingly, the 750-square-foot store features all the archetypal elements of neoclassicism: intricately carved columns, capitals, an entrance flanked by two archways and double columns. “Symmetry is quintessentially neoclassic,” said Tettero.

The decor was entirely made by Italian craftsmen, who re-created the store in their shop to check that every upside-down fret was just right before installing it into the actual space on Via Sant’Andrea 14. “We took shots and turned the photos upside down. When the illusion was complete, we knew the store was ready,” said Tettero. The TV set showing the designers’ runway show is also upside down, encased in a white cabinet modeled after an 18th-century Swedish tiled stove. In each of the two rooms, there is a fireplace flanked by chairs, with mirrors above them.

“Well, underneath them, in this case,” Horsting corrected.

The architect also emphasized the preciousness of details, such as the chandeliers’ pure gold leaves and true crystal drops.

The women’s and men’s collections are housed in cabinets that line walls painted “middle gray.” The cabinets are shuttered by mirrors at night to give the space a pristine, gallery-like ambience — albeit a twisted one — with the logo welcome mat plastered to the ceiling.“This is a very young brand and it is indeed early on in the business to be opening a store, but I don’t feel it’s premature,” said Franco Pené, chairman of Gibó SpA, which produces the Viktor & Rolf collection and owns the new boutique. “The brand is mature, and the world of Viktor & Rolf is getting richer — we have even started producing a women’s pre-collection for fall-winter 2005,” said Pené.

Pené declined to provide sales projections for the boutique, but said he already was “very pleased” with the first few days of business. The boutique will be officially inaugurated on April 14, during the Salone del Mobile, the city’s pivotal international furniture and design exhibition, but has been open since Tuesday. The opening next week will be followed by a cocktail at the fashionable boutique 10 Corso Como for the Italian launch of the first Viktor & Rolf perfume, Flowerbomb, licensed by L’Oréal.

“The store allows us to understand the potential development of the brand and fine-tune the merchandise,” said Pené, adding that he enjoys the design of the store, as it is a reminder of a “traditional, luxurious past, but also a break from it.”

For Horsting and Snoeren, the boutique represents an important milestone for their label, which generates wholesale revenues approaching $10 million and is currently on a growth drive. As reported, the designers recently inked new licensing agreements for shoes, underwear, silk scarves and neckties.

But the Milan boutique represents the first time all the designers’ products will be housed under one roof — or should we say, above?

“It will really make clear what we stand for,” Horsting said. “It’s also really going to help us to see what people like, what they buy, what they don’t buy — and adapt from that.”

The boutique also provides an opportunity to sell some of the “couture” pieces featured by Viktor & Rolf in every runway show — and other special designs.

Pené approached the designers about the location, formerly occupied by Marni, and the duo jumped at the opportunity. “Milan is such a shopping city,” Horsting noted. “We also liked the idea of being able to experiment a bit with the first store. Our work is always about playing with existing elements and twisting them into something new and exciting.”Although no major retail rollout is planned, the designers relish the prospect of future locations.

“We would love to have a chain,” said Horsting, citing ambitions to have Viktor & Rolf boutiques in such fashion capitals as Paris, New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles.

But don’t expect the duo to let the inverted fixtures become a cliché.

“We love the idea of surprise, so for the stores, it’s no different,” Horsting said.

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