Parisian tradition gets a blast of new vitality from Architecture & Associés
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 4/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Lanvin's artistic director, Alber Elbaz, has an interesting theory: "I always say that, to keep a man, you have to seduce him. To keep a woman, you have to love her." So when he decided to overhaul the fashion house's Paris flagship, he says, his intent was "to create a space that would give love to women." To assist with this amorous venture, he hired Architecture & Associés principals Pierre Beucler and Jean-Christophe Poggioli. In the past, they've made their mark with such thoroughly contemporary projects as a Comme des Garçons boutique in Paris. At Lanvin, these two talents had a rare opportunity to work with traditional architecture and vintage furnishings. "It had to look as if it had always been there," Poggioli says.
"Always" is a long time at Lanvin. As Elbaz declares, "It's the world's oldest couture house still in operation." It's also had a boutique on the same corner of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré since 1889. At the time, Jeanne Lanvin was simply a milliner. She moved into clothing just over a decade later. Since arriving in 2002, Elbaz has brought the label back to the forefront of the fashion world, with one highly lauded collection after another. Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, and Tilda Swinton are all fans.
To help the boutique "maintain its soul," Beucler says, he and Poggioli looked at photos from the house's archives and decided to take cues from three key periods: the late 1890's, the 1930's, and today. Elements from each play off one another throughout. From the 1890's come oak paneling and parquet flooring. Touches from the 1930's include the use of lacquered surfaces and rounded forms. And concrete and steel add a contemporary edge. "With Lanvin, everything is a question of contrasts," Poggioli says. Beucler concurs, "A sophisticated element must have something rough opposite it."
Previously, the boutique had occupied only the ground level of the building. There was garage paint on the floor, HVAC equipment was exposed, and you had the distinct impression of being in a pseudo-corridor. (The space is very narrow.) Elbaz increased the total square footage to 2,400 by annexing space upstairs, and Beucler and Poggioli created an impression of seamless spaciousness by enclosing the mechnicals and restructuring the interior—so there seems to be a "succession of rooms rather than one long corridor," Beucler explains.
The first virtual room is the entrance, home to an industrial-style concrete floor and customized theatrical lighting. "I see the boutique as a stage for the clothes," Elbaz explains. From there, you move on to the main level's ready-to-wear area, followed by a cream-lacquered boudoir for handbags and jewelry. Up the mirror-lined stairwell, on the second level, is a shoe salon—and a black-lacquered space devoted to couture.
The effect is deliberately residential, even casual. According to Beucler, it's like "a woman's dressing room at home, a place where she can leave the drawers open." Among the Lanvin-related historical accents are archival photos of house models, a small desk that once belonged to her and is now re-lacquered in white, a triptych mirror that stood in her office, and chairs by Armand-Albert Rateau, who decorated her own town house as well as her boutiques. Beucler believes that a vintage sofa, picked up at a flea market, might be Eileen Gray. Rugs are Persian 19th-century.
Display fixtures, meanwhile, are eminently flexible. Steel racks, inspired by kimono stands, can be rolled around. Steel-framed glass cases can be fitted with either rails or shelves. "You can hang bags in the middle of clothes," Beucler says. "Everything mixes together." A press release talks poetically about a pair of slippers being "presented in a drawer, like cakes."
Innovative displays ensure that products are always the focus. "If you go into a boutique and the only thing you see is the architecture, it's not good," Elbaz says. No chance of that happening in the entry at Lanvin, where a fan blows air up a flowing gown of flaming yellow-orange satin, à la Marilyn Monroe.