New Kid On The Block pix
Giorgio Borruso Design dreams up surreal digs for Fornarina in Rome's venerable shopping district
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
At Fornarina, the Italian retailer of sassy young women's apparel, you'll find metallic wedge sandals, flirty polka-dot skirts, and not-so-innocent wrap dresses. But it's no couture label. With 58 shops worldwide, however, the company takes its store presence seriously, as witnessed in its recently created Rome flagship—the brand's debut store in the Eternal City. In a prime real estate coup, Fornarina snagged a three-level site on a vital corner of the main shopping drag—right near Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, and Dolce & Gabbana. The company then hired architect Giorgio Borruso to design a shop that stands hip and proud among its fashion heavy hitter neighbors.
After completing a Fornarina boutique in Las Vegas last year, Borruso, principal of his namesake firm in Marina del Rey, California, was already well versed in owner and president Lino Fornari's vision: reinvention. "He gave me carta bianca," recalls the Sicilian–born architect.
Borruso, who calls his projects "exercises," began by looking inward. "I was searching for the freedom you find in kids," he says. His reflections yielded a mind's-eye playground of surreal imagery with mutant circles and immense eyes amid a fluid space with nondirectional movement. Then, reality set in upon inspection of the baroque, stucco-clad, 16th-century building that Fornarina Rome was to inhabit.
Borruso faced a piano nobile and an upper level offering a skimpy 1,500 square feet of retail space. (The below grade's 500 square feet were to house a manager's office and storage.) Previous interventions, in the form of soffits, had diminished the ground floor's 11-foot-high ceiling and concealed the 9 1/2-foot-high vaulted ceiling upstairs. The architect resolved to demolish the offending elements as well as the existing stairway, then gave himself a clean two-story shell bisected by a central column.
"It needed breathing room and a connection between floors to be visible from the outside," says Borruso. There's no mistaking that link with his bold gesture just past the entry to the store. He sliced an irregularly shaped oval through the 'ground-floor's ceiling and erected three side-by-side slender panels of pearlescent white lacquer. The dazzling 21-foot-high column runs the vertical height between the palazzo's two floors and can be seen from outside through the shop's four street-front windows.
Achieving this dramatic visual entailed a feat of behind-the-scene engineering. To support the 772-pound panels, Borruso created a steel bracing system with ribs extending from the ceiling vault down the walls of the upper level. Capping the ribs, which are covered in drywall, is a stainless-steel channel into which the panels are inserted.
The column forms a glossy backdrop for equally gleaming, amoeba-shape display fixtures: custom chrome-finished fiberglass rings inspired by motorcycle rims, according to Borruso. Each one showcases the season's must-have stiletto or clutch.
Black-lacquered panels define the new stairwell, and a series of large eyelike fiberglass fixtures display shoes and accessories. Borruso calls them "voyeuristic walls" as the eyes flirtatiously hinge open and shut. They change color, too. Fitted with four colored fluorescent strips, the 2-by-4-foot forms alternate between white and the rhodamine red of Fornarina's logo via computer.
For larger-scale goods, stainless-steel knobs embedded into the white-painted walls pull out to reveal built-in receptacles for hang bars or rods that support curvaceous lacquer shelves.
The floors sweeping curves of white vinyl and black resin reference the architect's initial dreamlike musing. The chiaroscuro pattern encourages shoppers to meander throughout the two levels.
Shoppers' rounds most often lead them to the four dressing rooms, distributed equally between both floors. Striking a resemblance to Isamu Noguchi sculptures, the tentlike rooms are composed of white elastic polyester fabric stretched over aluminum frames. Sinuous white lacquer forms the two identical cash wraps.
According to Borruso, the store is attracting attention—and not just from fashionistas. Hollywood bigwig Steven Spielberg spent almost two hours on-site, perhaps in search of inspiration for a future film set.