"The boutique-as-gallery approach seemed absolutely right for this retail project," explains Apicella, a San Francisco-based partner at Pentagram who lead the architectural design. "It was the variety of brands in the store, all collected or 'curated' by the client, that led us to think of this as a retail 'gallery' space — an elegant frame or platform for its exclusive merchandise."
The property had formerly been a shoe store with minimal frontage and a back-of-house storage basement. Pentagram decided to clear and fuse the two levels into a long, continuous retail space defined by polished aluminum, lacquer and floating glass shelving. A quiet, gray palette was used for walls.
"The budget was adequate but certainly not extravagant. We were constrained therefore to reusing the existing shop front, albeit refinished and with a new fascia design," says Apicella. The geometry of the space is strong, with high ceilings and limestone floors: a modernist take on classic Italian interior design.
The designers had worked with La Perla on a previous project, and remembered a primary request: steer clear of the "boudoir" approach that tends to alienate male shoppers. The neutrality of the color scheme supports this, as well as sending all eyes to the merchandise. The theme of understated elegance extends to the store's packaging, with its simple "E" logo in muted grays designed by Pentagram's Rushworth, a partner in the London office.
The search for sophistication can often take projects like this to the bare, intimidating side of exclusive. But in this case, splashes of color were allowed. Bright-red leather "coconut" chairs by George Nelson and the Glo Ball lamp by Jasper Morrison give the place a lively extra level of contemporary luxe, as do Carrara marble Saarinen side tables. Cinnibar-red wooden hangers lend further spice.
Store lighting was engineered to flatter the merchandise and those browsing it — a courtesy that won't escape the notice of seasoned undies-shoppers. The changing rooms use wide-angle, low-voltage lighting, while upstairs in the display areas, narrow, low-voltage beams pick out the collections, emphasizing the colors.
By the same means, shoppers glancing through the window from the street will find their gaze settling somewhere near the back of the space, where a white circular "oculus" of light plays in the waiting area.
One of the greatest challenges in this project, says Apicella, was satisfying representatives from each brand. "These brands all had a say in the store design," he says. "The constraint in designing for a variety of labels was in providing an environment that was equal to the high design values of their merchandise. They were shown the environment design as it progressed."
As labels these days seem to inevitably favor this well-used museum or gallery approach for the way it reveres the merchandise, a compromise was drawn up. The resulting scheme is a sleek middle ground between the levels of sophistication expected by high-maintenance brands and Pentagram's ability to breathe a little life back into a commonly taken approach.
Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...
Jo Baker is a freelance design and travel writer based in Hong Kong and San Francisco. Publications she writes for include Time, The South China Morning Post, and Hinge Magazine.