Byline: Sara Raper

PARIS — Christian Dior will unveil its newly redesigned flagship store on the Avenue Montaigne Tuesday, the house’s statement on entertainment retailing a la francaise and the prototype for Dior shops around the world.
“We’re conserving the spirit of the house, but we’re also making it very modern,” said Bernard Arnault, chairman of Dior SA and its sister company, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, on Friday. Arnault was upbeat as he watched scores of workers and merchandisers finishing up the nine-month project designed by American architect Peter Marino.
Bernadette Chirac, France’s first lady, will cut the ribbon on the boutique at Tuesday’s opening night gala.
While Dior executives declined to disclose the cost of the renovation, sources estimated it at more than $15 million, citing extensive exterior limestone replacements and Marino’s weakness for the couture equivalent in building materials. But the Dior officials said they hoped that new, younger customers would be drawn to the store and that the playful ambiance of it all would encourage them to pry open their purses.
There’s no doubt that an overhaul is good for business, said Marino, adding, “People always make money off of me.”
Arnault explained that he first got to know the architect when he hired him for a personal job.
“Peter Marino’s sense of detail is excellent,” the LVMH chief said. “The client must dive into the universe of Dior, and the presentation is both elegant and amusing.”
Both the sophistication and the smiles at the 12,000-square-foot store can be found in Marino’s details — selling tables in bronze inlaid with shaved mica, ultra-thin brass-and-glass shelving, pearlized paint effects, stamped silk velvet fabrics specially commissioned to look contemporary, stone floors with silver molten glass insets in Dior’s signature caning pattern. The refinement-per-square-foot quotient soars in the lingerie department, where the fitting room is in tufted gray silk, trimmed with a frieze with black chantilly lace.
And then there’s the furniture — a riot of 18th-century chairs upholstered with a gold fabric that looks like overgrown moss, others in a velvet and silk zebra motif. Marino’s personal favorite is a stool with bronze legs shaped like a goat’s.
The chairs bring one around to the Louis issue. While there’s a healthy dose throughout the store of Louis XVI — a period Dior, himself, loved — and a smattering of Louis XV, much of the look is something Marino and the Dior folks have dubbed Louis/Dior. It’s basically everything that’s a mishmash — whimsical chairs and the delicate wood carvings in the evening dress salons. And it was a key element in marrying the Dior of the past with the Dior of the future.
Marino boasts that unlike some of his competitors, he can’t be accused of “brainless minimalism,” but he has designed a fair number of celebrated pared-down projects, including stores for Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Valentino and Barneys New York.
And that worried the more conservative factions at Dior. “Some of them were worried there wouldn’t be any Louis left at all,” Marino said.
Psychologically, there are three “fantasy pods” — the salons for perfume and beauty, eveningwear and shoes, where he pulls out the stops. “Women were begging, ‘Please don’t give me another vinyl shoe banquette.”‘
Marino says the more outrageous elements are controlled: “If everything were over the top, it wouldn’t work.”
The entrance to the store — painted in Dior’s signature pearl gray — on the corner of the Avenue Montaigne and the Rue Francois Premier, opens into a dramatic 23-foot-high rotunda. It is hung with six monumental photos showing designs from John Galliano, who took over at Dior last year, and founding designer Christian Dior. The rotunda is one of the most visible symbols of the effort to marry signature Dior elements with modern, get-in-get-out shopping conveniences.
The rotunda opens into the fragrance and beauty salon on the left and continues to the men’s store (which has a separate entrance as well). A center axis draws shoppers beyond the accessories display to the day and evening and ready-to-wear collections. A third axis to the right leads to a shoe salon.
That will eventually be extended for a space for fine jewelry, a new category Dior plan to launch next year, according to Francois Baufume, president of Dior.
The store should provide an impressive setting for Galliano’s creations — the idea of couture is expressed in the luxury of the materials and in the variety of artisanal touches — the back-painting on the mirrors of the fragrance salon, for example.
“Juxtaposition is the key,” explained Marino. Home furnishings and table-top items are sold in a room set up like an 18th-century dining room — but with a modern sisal floor covering.
Sidney Toledano, deputy general manager of Christian Dior Couture, who heads Dior’s store network, said the biggest changes from the old boutique involved the much larger volumes of the new store — Marino did away with the first floor to raise the ceilings — and the mix and artful positioning of lights. The ready-to-wear outfits, for example, are lit from above, but the wall behind them is also lit to create a dramatic effect.
Then there are the modern touches — a new style of freestanding display units for men’s and women’s ready-to-wear; three video screens, including a giant hidden screen in the entrance rotunda, and a sound system that can play different music in different rooms.
In addition, all of the merchandising was planned to encourage shoppers to touch. More practically, there are four cash registers instead of the one, central register at the old store and four accesses to greatly enlarged 12,000-square-foot storage space in the basement. Plus the store is brimming with hundreds of hidden drawers and cubbies to keep stock handy.
Features that will be rolled out to other Dior units include the pearl gray color, accessories merchandising units that alternate a column of small shadow boxes with a wider column of recessed shelving and display fixtures for the apparel.

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