Garcons a la mode.
Rei Kawakubo is the moving spirit behind the Comme des Garcons clothes stores. She describes herself as a fashion designer but her vision is closer to that of a sculptor. Constructed around intangible themes such as 'movement', 'festivity', 'energy', the clothes are difficult to define -- terms like abstract, asymmetrical and constantly inventive come to mind. The elegance of the compositions has an accidental quality. These days the company produces both men and women's clothes and accessories, as well as Kawakubo's austere furniture and Six, the house magazine which uses extraordinary imagery drawn from art, architecture and nature to promote her creations.
Control of the company's image extends to design of the spaces in which the clothes are displayed, and here Kawakubo's imagination has been focused and her ideas interpreted by architect Takao Kawasaki. Twenty years ago, minimalism prevailed: clothes were monochrome and shops bare, uncluttered and somewhat daunting. Ten years later, the idea of movement was the dominant theme for new collections and shop interiors were open, easy to negotiate, and coloured.
Recently there has been another change. A family of new shops in New York and Tokyo (and under construction in Paris) are intended to express rampant individuality and experiment. They are shops, says Kawakubo, for people who 'get energy from wearing the clothes, who like taking risks'. While Kawakubo and Kawasaki designed the interiors, Future Systems was enlisted for the shop entrance in New York and the exterior of the larger of two new shops in Aoyama, Tokyo.
The partnership with Kawakubo appears to have given Future Systems' eccentric and unpredictable talents a natural outlet. New York's Comme des Garcons in Chelsea was the first of the new shops. Hidden away in an area largely inhabited by art galleries, with a negligible street presence -- there are no shop windows or even a sign -- the place is an extraordinary departure from the stripped down opulence that is presently in fashion. Customers have been entranced by Future Systems' silver tunnel transporting them from the New York street to the interior of the [shop.sup.1]. Studded with light underfoot and with a hand-finished surface like watered silk, the shining asymmetrical gullet is divided by a glazed pivoting door that cuts it physically but not visually. The surface is the structure, for this is Future Systems' beloved monocoque. Constructed from invisibly welded aluminium panels, it has no ribs or spars; the jointing is seamless. It disgorges you into a soaring white space with clothes inhabiting a kind of townscape of sculptural enclosures, made of white enamelled steel. Undulating black walls guard the changing rooms, their uncompromising presence owing something to Richard Serra.
In Tokyo, where the main shop is sandwiched between two horizontal concrete slabs of a dumb office building and faces a main thoroughfare, Future Systems has devised a different kind of connection between street and interior. Instead of an internal organ, the practice has created a piece of street theatre.
The shop occupies the rectangular ground floor on a corner of busy Omote Sando Street. Having removed the street face on two sides, the architects have pulled back behind structural columns and inserted two ribbons of inclined undulating glass, the deconstructed sections of a cone. Curving around in a final flourish just aslant the corner, they form a simple liquid entrance. Covered with a layer of translucent blue dots, the shop front becomes a glowing blue veil, like a piece of floating fabric, between the pollution of the street and white interior.
Inside the glass veil, the townscape theme occurs but more abstractly. As in Chelsea, customers can wander through a looking-glass land with the suggestion of streets and buildings, where the only orthogonal objects seem to be the square columns, with mirrors propped against them, gleaming counters and clothes rails. Running diagonally across the site are three irregular enclosures, like fragments of larger geometric figures, for stock, administrative offices and changing cubicles. On either side are the different sections of the store -- clothes, jewellery, perfume and so on -- some of them held within the embrace of the glass walls. They are screened by specially designed walls, like pieces of sculpture, with different textures and colours.
The third shop in the family, Comme des Garcons Two, is round the corner, about five minutes away on Kotto Dori (or Antique Street). Designed entirely by Kawakubo and Kawasaki, it is the youngest member in all senses of the word for it is the first shop to be devoted to clothes by the firm's young designers. Though Future Systems had no hand here, there is a family resemblance to aspects of both the other stores. It is hard to miss the shocking red door in the blank brick wall, but you must stand directly in front to know this is the place you want. Inside, the white walls and sculptural displays have been repeated, but a brilliant yellow wall and scarlet metal staircase to an upper level convey youth, as does polished concrete underfoot instead of sumptuous grey granite. I Norman Foster had a similar idea when in 1988 he designed an illuminated bridge as the entrance to Katherine Hamnett's shop, since defunct, at Brompton Cross in London.
Concept and design
Architect of entrance tunnel, New York; facade, main shop, Tokyo
Christian Astuguevieille (wall with pots and vases, main shop, Tokyo)
Sophie Smallhorn (wall with red blocks, main shop, Tokyo)
1. New York. Future Systems' silver tunnel forms the entrance of the shop. A monocoque structure, it has a hand-finished surface like watered silk and is cut by a glazed pivoting door.
2. New York. The tunnel disgorges the customer into the interior.
3. Main shop, Tokyo. Undulating glass wall, like a glowing blue veil, mediates between a busy thoroughfare and shop interior.
4. Main shop, Tokyo. Embracing glass wall, grey granite floor and gleaming counter.
5. Main shop, Tokyo. Decorative wall with pots and vases by Christian Astuguevieille.
6. Main shop, Tokyo. Decorative coloured wall composed of acoustic material with enclosed booth beyond.
7. Main shop, Tokyo. Decorative chequered wall by Sophie Smallhorn.
8. Main shop, Tokyo. Street with recessed lighting and canted walls holding displays.
9. Jewellery section, main shop, Tokyo. Decorative wall of acoustic material.
10. Exterior of Comme des Garcons Two, Tokyo.
11. Interior: with polished concrete floor.
12. Interior and scarlet stair to upper level.
13. Interior: second level with decorative wall of acoustic material.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Comme des Garcons design, Rei Kawabuko|
|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1999|
|Previous Article:||GREEN BUNKER.|
|Next Article:||CARTAGENA EVOLUTION.|