Droog Design and NL Architects subvert retail conventions at Mandarina Duck's flagship store in Paris.
Suzanne Trocmé -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
THE ACCESSORIES COMPANY Mandarina Duck, famous for its rubberized luggage, prides itself on being an international brand with strong product recognition and loyal customers. The recently opened flagship store in Paris—Mandarina Duck refers to it as an "embassy"—has been designed in collaboration with Droog Design and NL Architects, both from the Netherlands.
In the Paris store, located on the conservative rue Saint Honoré, Droog and NL introduce elements that dramatically call into question the conventional look of a boutique without sacrificing retail function. Their designs have been billed as "a store with no architecture," a white space consisting primarily of freestanding elements, all of them disposable, save for the staircase. But what they have done for Mandarina Duck is a far cry indeed from the chilly minimalism that has been the standard for high-profile retail interiors of the last decade. Instead, the company has opted for "multi-sensoriality, color, and sense of surprise," according to a representative for Mandarina Duck. "Droog and NL Architects question the oppressive part of convention, which conditions how classic boutiques must look."
The designers wanted to open up the store's space, encouraging easy transition from one area to another. Shoppers can discover the various islands of merchandise in a largely unpredetermined manner. Mobile and temporary furniture and fixtures facilitate this sense of free transition and shifting options. But the store's single permanent element, a spiral staircase between the two floors, also works to create the feeling of motion and rapid transition: motorized, it speeds shoppers upstairs like a whirling corkscrew escalator. "It's always hard to make a customer take the stairs," says a company representative of this particular innovation.
To the left of the staircase, bands of rubber have been nailed to the wall, an unusual but effective way of displaying samples of the current collection. To the right, a large "pin-wall" unit of lightweight metallic rods forms another eccentric display system: bags can be gently pushed into the yielding surface, and, in another design flourish, appear as positive forms on the other side of the pin-wall. For smaller items such as wallets, Droog and NL devised an ingenious, if slightly perverse, mode of display. Beside the cash/wrap area, they have installed a glass cabinet fitted with rubber gloves, quite reminiscent of those used in high-security containment facilities for handling delicate or bio-hazardous materials—think The Andromeda Strain. Just slide your forearms into the black gloves of the "incubator" to frisk the wares.
Upstairs, a sinuous metal curtain defines interior zones that feature revolving display tables. The changing rooms are a walk-in maze: a forest of pale, translucent, bending fiberglass rods. The rooms themselves have no doors but are recessed, guaranteeing a modicum of privacy.
Droog and NL have created an environment for Mandarina Duck that is spare in its design elements yet extravagantly imaginative. Challenging assumptions about retail design, they have nonetheless created a provocative, fantastical place to shop. And isn't fashion about fantasy, anyway?