One Size Fits All
Johnston Marklee fashions two different boutiques from a single Los Angeles building
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
At first glance, the two shops sharing this building at the juncture of Beverly Hills and Century City couldn't seem more different from each other. Enter the street-front Maison Martin Margiela, with its facade of shimmering plastic panels, and you'll feel transported to a Parisian salon, replete with trompe l'oeil boiserie. The back wall of the building, meanwhile, is plain redbrick, and the room inside has the raw glamour of an upscale New York loft—that's Mameg, where owner Sonia Eram has assembled a tightly edited collection of pieces by Hussein Chalayan, Raf Simons for Jil Sander, and Cosmic Wonder. Stick around to shop and ask a few questions, though, and you'll start to figure out the connection between the two halves. Architecture firm Johnston Marklee designed them simultaneously.
In true Hollywood fashion, there's a backstory. Eram had carried Margiela at Mameg's two previous Los Angeles locations. When the French fashion house opted for its own shop, executives didn't know the L.A. market, so Eram agreed to scout locations. At the same time, her own shop's building was sold. Why not look for something fitting for both? What she found was a 4,700-square-foot building, complete with a bow-truss ceiling and three skylights. Once an auto-repair shop, then a golf boutique, and finally a church, it had been vacant for five months. Still, it was in "OK shape," notes Sharon Johnston, who heads up Johnston Marklee with her husband, Mark Lee. The client-architect bond had been forged years before, when Lee picked out a black Josephus Thimister blouse for his wife at the first Mameg. Eram applauded his choice—and later hired Johnston Marklee to design her second shop.
For her newest one, there was an obvious discrepancy between Margiela's street presence and Mameg's anonymity, but that suited Eram just fine. Her previous locations were purposely off the beaten track. As Johnston recalls, "We spent a month trying to find that first shop, in a Brentwood mini-mall." In Beverly Hills, Mameg has two entries. Customers can walk in directly from the outside, via a tiny haven of a rear deck dotted with crape myrtles, or from Margiela, thanks to a gold-painted connecting corridor.
For Margiela's design, Johnston Marklee had to adhere to an international standard. "They look at each space as a found object, then fold it into their European aesthetic," Lee says. Hence the trompe l'oeil boiserie and the vinyl flooring that mimics wooden planks. That homage paid, the interior takes on its own identity. Margiela, L.A., remains wittily ethereal inside the two rooms the architects carved out.
In the front room are jewelry and accessories. Those split-toe boots may be cool, but they pale before their display tower, a wedding cake of plastic champagne flutes—"repeated to an absurd degree," Lee says, on tiers of polished acrylic. Handbag fixtures are simpler, nothing more than industrial nails pounded into the silver-painted brick wall. In the main room, where both women's and men's clothing is sold, reflections play games with what's real, what's not. Mirrored display tables multiply ghostly white-slipcovered secondhand seating and otherworldly-looking silver-painted mannequins wrapped in clear vinyl. A central mirrored volume, containing two of the dressing rooms, all but disappears. Inside each room, a mirrored wall panel is framed by oversize versions of the kind of light fixtures you'd find above the vanity of an old-time Hollywood starlet. A side wall is covered in a collage of black-and-white mug shots of today's fashion models.
"Margiela was about wrapping everything, like theater," Lee comments. "Mameg was about excavation." Brick was sandblasted, concrete polished. And scale went large. Spanning the back wall is a 12-foot-high, 44-foot-long stepped storage unit. Though it initially appears as just a massive pile of white-painted MDF boxes, it's actually meticulously detailed, with each angled divider studied for size and position. Another big gesture was to move the mezzanine across the room, to the side behind the storage unit. The large skylight above draws customers' attention toward the additional merchandise here—it's often laid out on a trio of swooping Frank Gehry tables.
Staff work space occupies part of the mezzanine. Eram's "office" is nothing more than an English 18th-century partners desk that sits front and center on the main sales floor, amid the vintage mannequins. That way, she's never far from her clientele. "It's like my living room," she says. In fact, seated at her desk, she faces a pair of black leather-covered Antonio Citterio sofas that look like they came directly from Studio 54.