DNA — a blessing and a challenge. Just ask anyone with a loving family who’s ever been embarrassed by a drunk uncle at a wedding.
Luxury brands (a rare few, anyway) know all about this dichotomy, blessed by a look and message strong enough to resonate across decades yet challenged to keep both relevant in a world obsessed by that ephemeral handle, modern. One exercise in that dichotomy is being played anew this week, with the opening of the Dior store on Greene Street in SoHo.
I saw the space on Wednesday, when it was still more construction site than brand-defining beacon. Yet between the ladders, around the bins and atop the plastic tarps covering the floors I’m told are Danish wood bleached to loft-worthy perfection, I caught unmistakable glimpses of nouveau Dior, streamlined Dior, modern Dior. These came in the preponderance of straight lines, sharp angles, and mostly, in finishes: a lack of traditional Dior gray and in its place multiple textures of silver, but with a power twinge of pretty futurism as befits a dwelling designed to hold the restrained loveliness of Raf Simons rather than the euphoric, indulgent romanticism of his predecessor John Galliano.
Then there’s the neighborhood. This is SoHo, which, for all the international-mixed-with-in-from-Buffalo huddled masses who populate its weekends, most not cloaked in the trappings of luxury or edge, retains its cool aura as a haven for the young, the hip, the fabulous. Brands want to be there.
“You see the development of downtown New York, you have people from SoHo, the Village, Chelsea,” said Sidney Toledano by phone on Friday, just back in Paris from Tokyo for the opening of a store there. “We opened the men’s store on Greene Street and we had women coming in asking why they can’t buy women’s [in SoHo]. When we had the opportunity for a lease on the street, we went with it. It’s high-energy and a new, modern luxury.”
Modern luxury — its creation and delivery are core to Simons’ Dior mandate. He is, Toledano said, “bringing a lot of modernity to the story of Dior. It’s [attracting] a younger customer with a very modern product.”
Yet Simons isn’t involved directly or otherwise in the store design. That domain belongs to Peter Marino, who has designed all Dior stores since 2007. Marino attends every fashion show, noting Simons’ gestures both grand and nuanced in scrupulous detail, and realizes retail scenarios he deems appropriate fusions of legacy and currency. Since my visit, he completed the transformation of the space from work-in-progress to a temple of cool chic, reflective of a pared-down approach also in play in the new Tokyo location yet with ample site-specific idiosyncrasy.
“Think Andy Warhol’s silver Factory,” Marino noted on Friday. In the short term, you can also think holidays, the window features an installation of huge, vibrant Christmas ornaments. Of the permanent features, Marino cited Larry Bell’s large Mylar sculptures that hang over the shoe display. He called them “poetic and lyrical, pushing the [concept of] what an artist is supposed to do — much like Raf with his dresses. Think young, edgy, fun.”
And significantly different from Dior on 57th Street as well as the flagship on the Avenue Montaigne, designed as a series of rooms with the feel of a Parisian apartment. The SoHo store is long and loftlike, its previously lowered ceiling restored to a high of 14-plus feet. This added three feet of vertical space and ample gloss — Marino mirrored it — while revealing the full glory of columns original to the space. Marino had them coated in high-shine silver, one of the many silvery textures used throughout. Running the length of one wall, the fine but imperfect strokes of silver stucco establish the visual/tactile significance of texture and contrast; the attached handbag shelving is sleek, paper-thin aluminum. On the opposite side, behind the suspended shiny ready-to-wear racks, a white metal-chain wall looks slyly Space Age, a descendant of Paco Rabanne’s chain link curtains but more discreet and elegant. It’s up-lit from the floor.
Art and technology — two disciplines of interest to Simons and Marino — play major roles. At the back end of the store, a large video installation by Yoram anchors the shoe salon. It opens with flower projections inspired by Simons’ first couture show for fall 2012. These fade one into another, and the imagery will change over time. Anna Barriball was asked to interpret Louis XVI-style paneling, a fixture of the Avenue Montaigne store. Her project fascinates, “a huge silver quilt [with] stitched moldings on it so it looks like a woolen Versailles,” as Marino describes it. Or, to those of us less architecturally learned, like a gorgeous piece of quietly embroidered fabric framed in white lacquer. Either way, he’s right to call it “supercool.” And Nicolas Schoffer designed a floor-standing metal sculpture that plays circles and squares against each other to bold effect. Marino described that one as “a young, funky gesture.” High-impact furniture hails from designers including Vincent Dubourg (tables) and Guillaume Piechaud (stainless steel chair), as well as Marino himself.
Toledano stressed that the neighborhood’s obvious weekend population shifts aside, the aim is not to create a robust daily business. He expects the store to pull in young, tony residents as well as tourists.
Young. That word again — sometimes, as the saying goes, not an age but an attitude. Right now in luxury, this most mature of markets, the U.S. is looking pretty spry. “People are feeling confident about the future,” Toledano said. “The young people are confident; they believe in their future. It’s double impact: When you have local people with good images [of the local economy] the tourists feel it and they want to come…for fashion you have to be smiling and optimistic so the tourists can buy.”
And what would a great shopping experience be for tourists and locals alike, without some essential local color? Along with the building’s cast iron, “untouchable” (according to Marino) yellowish facade and the store’s unfussy chic, the neighborhood offers a seldom-heralded dose of that most modern of fashion concepts: high-low. “SoHo is a former art colony,” Marino mused. “You can go in a store and buy a $10,000 dress, and then there are 10 plastic garbage bags outside on the sidewalk. That doesn’t happen on 57th Street.”