COMME’S NEW HOME
Byline: Robert Murphy
PARIS — Part waiting room, part amusement park ride, the central feature of Comme des Garcons’ new boutique here is a 450-square-foot “pavilion” sheltering 10 cube-shaped stools that mysteriously spin and shunt on fixed axes.
The pavilion is situated across the courtyard from the 3,000-square-foot boutique, which opened for business Wednesday in a secluded spot off the tony Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore shopping strip.
“This is the soul of the shop,” declared Adrian Joffe, Comme des Garcons managing director and the husband of designer Rei Kawakubo. “It’s the thing that gives the rest of the space life, energy.”
Joffe said Kawakubo “wanted something essential that communicated the idea behind her designs without representing the actual clothes. The pavilion is a place where clients can rest to a symphony of moving chairs.”
Kawakubo commissioned the up-and-coming London design firm KRD for the room. KRD’s principals are Shona Kitchen and Ab Rogers, the son of Lord Richard Rogers, the architect of the Pompidou Center in Paris. The firm also collaborated with Kawakubo and Paris-based Architectures Associes, on the adjacent shop.
And what a shop. Since the building’s Haussmann-era facade was protected for its historical value, Kawakubo created a building within the building by cocooning the interior in red fiberglass. In fact, the fiberglass blocks the windows and was sculpted into an automatic sliding door through which visitors enter. Kawakubo reprised the fiberglass for the store’s central feature, a wave-like structure that covers the walls and part of the ceiling along the 150-foot-long entrance corridor.
The material was also employed in a long counter and other fixtures, including hollow display cases combined with rubber, acrylic or stainless steel. As for the rest of the space, the materials are rawer, including a concrete floor and stark, gallery-like white walls.
“Rei wanted the architecture to be clean, but not minimal,” said Joffe, pointing to another architectural flourish: a cube that juts at a 45-degree angle from the ceiling in the main shopping area. “It covers an old skylight that we didn’t like,” said Joffe. “Playing with volume was a integral idea of the shop’s design.”
Such architectural fireworks have become par for the course for Comme des Garcons. Its New York flagship in the Chelsea art district, by design firm Future Systems, has become a destination for Kawakubo fans and architecture students alike.
But the new Paris location — neighboring such bastions of luxury as Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Chloe — has an unusual address for a firm often associated with edgy, artistic neighborhoods.
Joffe, however, said the store is still a destination.
“There will be no markings on the shop to identify it with Comme des Garcons,” he said. “And on the street, there only will be a small sign on the wall — similar to a dentist’s plaque. It won’t be that easy to find.”
Indeed, it is so well hidden that Comme des Garcons has taken out ads in several fashion magazines here, including French Vogue, Numero, Elle and Marie Claire, to announce the opening. The firm also informed 8,000 of its clients by mail. The new shop replaces two 19-year-old Comme des Garcons locations on Rue Etienne Marcel, which were shuttered this month.
Joffe said he expects the new location to generate a 50 percent sales increase in the first year. Apart from the men’s and women’s lines stocked in Comme des Garcons stores around the world, exclusive products will be introduced to the Paris shop. They will be distinguished by a special red label on such products as men’s and women’s shirts.
Joffe said he also plans to feed the shop with monthly deliveries of fresh merchandise.
“I don’t like the idea shoppers only visit at the beginning of the season and at sale time,” he said. “I want to bring in fresh merchandise every five to six weeks. This shop is meant to be a destination and we want to give people a reason to stop by on a regular basis.”