Walking the walk
A fashion studio's nature is controlled chaos—for Narciso Rodriguez in New York, architect Calvert Wright provided the control
Stephen F. Milioti -- Interior Design, 4/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
If you're not actually walking down a red carpet while wearing a Narciso Rodriguez gown, you're probably in a limo on the way to the gala. The Rodriguez prototype woman has a boldface name, earns eight figures per movie, and never wears the same dress twice. Just think Sarah Jessica Parker, who sat in the front row at his recent New York show, or Salma Hayek, who paraded around the Frida premiere in a stunning pink Rodriguez frock.
Under the circumstances, one might expect Rodriguez's studio in New York to be glitzy. But one would be wrong. The 7,500-square-foot space, by architect Calvert Wright, is cool but calm, sharp but subdued. The statement is clear: Before the flashbulbs start popping, the business of fashion must be taken care of.
Wright was pleased to learn at the outset that Rodriguez was conversant in modern architecture. Note a conference room's industrial-style steel shelving, which holds books on Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier alongside titles on Christian Dior and Coco Chanel. The overall environment is equally serious.
A product of 1100 Architect, Diller + Scofidio, and Rafael Viñoly Architects, Wright is serious, too. So much so that he named his firm Calvert Wright Architecture/Spatial Discipline. If that sounds like a holding cell for hooligan space-users, it is—in a sense. "Because of our name," he says with a grin, "some people expect us to come in with whips and chains."
What disciplines the Rodriguez studio is a series of freestanding plasterboard volumes. In addition to providing storage—the 81/2-foot-high espresso-brown slab in the reception area holds an archive of Rodriguez's collections since 1997—these structures divide offices, fitting rooms, and back-of-house production from main circulation routes as well as partitioning the offices from one another. "They're slabs in the Miesian sense," says Wright.
Seen from the reception area, the slabs form diagonals and boundaries, defining impressions of size and distance. Pointing to a slab separating reception from a conference room, Wright happily admits to using hollow-core doors and $40 pivot hinges to meet the constraints of a tight budget. Positioning the slabs away from windows was another money-saver: Light flows in, and electric bills stay down.
Besides the sectors defined by the slabs, the architect left several wide-open spaces, including a 55-foot-long stretch of furniture-quality quarter-sawn white-oak flooring. This corridor functions as a practice catwalk for models prancing around in Narciso Rodriguez designs. "It helps me envision what an outfit will look like on the runway," Rodriguez explains of the business-smart move.
Also in the service of openness, Wright says he left ductwork exposed "rather than doing something silly and expensive like dropping the ceiling." (At 6 foot 6, he's not likely to advocate lowering ceilings.) Add the off-white walls to the equation—not so bright as to be severe but light enough to be reflective—and the interior becomes certifiably airy.
Even more important, Wright's design won't crumble under the weight of a stressful day: If a screen diva tries on a dress she doesn't like, it generally gets tossed aside; things pile up on the floor; high heels fly. And then there are the sketches. In Rodriguez's own window-wrapped corner office, they're everywhere: lying on the desk, taped to the slab wall.
Tools of the trade become part of the decor. In the conference room, glass jars—the kind that hold jelly beans at candy stores—contain fabric swatches in different colors. When asked about the jars, Wright opens one, picks a semitransparent black swatch, and holds it up to the window. "It's multilayered," he says of the little scrap, moving it around between thumb and forefinger. "There's a layer that sucks in the light and a layer on top that's reflective." As reflective as the space he's standing in.
An unobstructed swath of quarter-sawn white-oak floor functions as a practice catwalk at Narciso Rodriguez's studio in New York. Architect Calvert Wright designed the 7,500-square-foot space.
The reception desk is stained rift oak. Behind, Wright featured the fashion designer's name clearly but subtly by carving it into a cast-plaster block set into a plasterboard form.
Wright positioned the freestanding plasterboard slabs away from the windows to allow sunlight to flow in.
Rodriguez makes adjustments for Cuban salsa legend Celia Cruz.
Slabs separate the practice catwalk from production and office areas.
All aspects of Rodriguez's work take place in the studio, including fittings directly on models.
In one of the studio's office spaces, chairs by Harry Bertoia and Charles and Ray Eames bring modern rigor to the racks of clothing and rolls of fashion fabric.
Rodriguez goes over the sketches perennially taped to the slab walls of his corner office.