Point Of Return
SoCal native and fashion designer Phillip Lim gets back to his roots with a Los Angeles flagship by Para-Project
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
And then there were three. One year after launching a flagship in New York, and just one month after establishing a boutique in Tokyo, Phillip Lim has opened a shop in Los Angeles. The 34-year-old designer, who was born in Orange County, has been a veritable tour de force since his 2005 debut at New York's fall fashion week. He and his streamlined men's and women's sportswear, 3.1 Phillip Lim, have been recognized by Fashion Group International, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
It makes sense that this fresh, young talent would seek equally fresh, young designers to fashion his boutiques. For SoHo, it was Jeremy Barbour, the 32-year-old principal of Tacklebox. For Aoyama, 35-year-old Norito Takahashi of Jamo Associates. And for the latest 3.1 Phillip Lim store, a freestanding 5,000-square-foot space on one of West Hollywood's target shopping streets, it was a trio of tenderfoots who call themselves Para-Project, with few built projects to their credit. "Phillip liked our combination of new ideas," says Para partner Dominic Leong, who led the team. In fact, Lim applauds their greenhorn status: "I consider the lack of built work a positive aspect," he says. "With 'experience' comes ingrained assumptions about what's possible and what's not."
This commission has given Para a chance to indicate just how much is possible for the firm. The three early-30's partners—Leong, Jonathan Lott, and Brian Price—met at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where each received his bachelor's of architecture. Lott and Price went on to Harvard University's Graduate School of Design for their master's in architecture, Leong to Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation for his master's of science in advanced architectural design. After separate stints with such heavy-hitting firms as Office of Metropolitan Architecture and SHoP Architects, the three came together again in New York, founding Para-Project in 2006.
It was 2007 when Lim presented the team—Para and architect Giancarlo Valle, who connected everyone and collaborated on the project—with the single-story L.A. structure, complete with a rear courtyard. Most recently a furniture showroom, and before that, an auto-repair shop, it now looks nothing like its prior incarnations, thanks particularly to its mysterious street-front facade, an oxymoron of pillowlike concrete tiles with not one display window. "Cool, with a certain playfulness was what Phillip requested," Leong recalls. That sensibility carries through to the airy interior, its main gesture being a continuous wall, covered with a skin of uniform spikes, which curves its way around the selling floor.
"The idea was to draw in customers as the space slowly unfolds," Leong continues. That slinky wall is indeed seductive. Recognizable to anyone who's stepped foot in a recording studio, the myriad miniature pyramids are 24-inch-square acoustic foam panels, applied with adhesive to the snaking drywall partition. Para toughened up the ordinarily soft and cushy foam with nine coats of white elastomer paint. "We spent a month researching coatings," notes Leong. "Elastomer allows the material to retain its suppleness yet stand up to daily wear and tear."
The 3-foot-thick wall maps out the generous main retail space in the shop's center while also cleverly incorporating display niches for accessories and clothing. Tucked behind the wall's curves are four enclaves, three for additional clothing display, one for the dressing rooms. "Like a garment, the wall has an inner and outer lining," Leung explains. Para plays with scale and perception in these smaller spaces, which are simultaneously intimate and infinite thanks to floor-to-ceiling mirrored panels that also serve the practical function of fronting storage units.
The team retained the building's original concrete flooring throughout, simply polishing it. But in the niches and the side areas, as well as at the cash-wrap, Para introduces other materials. Bamboo dominates: "It balances the natural and the artificial," Leong says of the renewable wood, which lines the display niches; forms the cash-wrap desk, the continuous canopy rising over it, and the dressing rooms; and defines the thresholds between the main space and the enclaves.
Each of the three sequestered pockets is like its own mini boutique: unique, elegant, detailed, slightly quirky—adjectives that could be used for Lim's apparel. In one, a swirly silver-and-lavender wall covering strikes a note of femininity. In another, herringbone leather clads the wall and covers an ottoman, a decidedly masculine touch. In the last, reserved for Kid and Go Green Go, Lim's children's and organic collections respectively, the wall looks like stone. It turns out to be Spanish cork, sliced thin like prosciutto.
Daylight is another omnipresent element in the natural/artificial mix. In back, the showroom and the office surround the renovated courtyard, accessed via tall bifold glass doors. There, and in the four side areas up front, natural light enters through six new circular skylights. In the main retail space, daylight is simulated with what Leong calls "a depthless artificial sky": a double layer of PVC stretched across the entire ceiling, secured by a handsome steel rail and backlit by fluorescents. It glows like a symbol of the bright future that's ahead for both Lim and Para.
Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks.