Singing In The Rain
Lucie Young -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
"It's always raining in London, where we're from, so we created rain here, too," architect Dorrien Hopley says of the SoHo fashion boutique he designed for Reiss. As a partner in D_raw Associates—the first word gets pronounced "draw"—he'd already completed 35 Reiss stores, in locations from London to Leeds, but this was the chain's overseas debut.
In the U.K., Reiss is already a fashion phenomenon, a Lycra British Style Award winner known for reasonably priced chic. (The company's top two designers have luxury pedigrees, hailing from Gucci and Calvin Klein.) Founder David Reiss needed to be sure that image would be communicated by his first international outpost, so he started by taking Hopley on a brainstorming trip to Tokyo's concept stores. "They're like sculpture or installations," Hopley says. "The retail fits in around the concept."
At the 5,000-square-foot SoHo flagship, D_raw's rain concept developed into more than 3,000 fluted acrylic rods suspended from the ceiling. The acrylic rain also plays with ideas of transparency and optical illusion. "It conveys a sense of floating and of weightlessness, to contrast with the substance of the clothes," Hopley says. A special optically clear acrylic enhances the effect.
Over the center of the sales floor cascades a rectangular ceiling installation comprising 1,000 fluted acrylic rods. Each is illuminated by a fiber-optic cable connected to a shimmer wheel. Identical rods, suspended on 22-foot-long stainless-steel cables, form screens that subtly divide the sales floor into areas for menswear, women's wear, and smaller items such as perfume and sunglasses.
Sections are also defined by the surfaces of display tables, walnut in the men's department and resin in the women's—the tables' glass bases fade from a rainy-day gray at the top to clear at the bottom, accentuating the floating feeling. Shoes and shirts are displayed on shelves of gray polarized glass attached to a vertical support of optically clear glass, so they appear to hang magically in midair.
In line with the owner's mission of making glamour accessible, the architect maintained the 22-foot ceiling in fitting rooms and covered them in silvery floral wallpaper but swathed their imposingly tall entries in cozy gray wool drapery. Six women's fitting rooms feature a tubular glass pendant fixture that hangs down 10 feet, psychologically lowering the ceiling, and mirrors are deliberately just 7 feet tall. "With a bigger mirror," says Hopley, "you risk making the customer look and feel small."
This level of detail is exceptional, considering that the clothing is priced to compete with Banana Republic and DKNY. But David Reiss believes in identifying with the luxury end of the market. Consequently, Hopley made custom elements from quality materials sourced from around the globe. The acrylic rods, for instance, were extruded in China, then shipped to the U.K. for cutting and polishing.
Hopley's favorite features are the gigantic front doors, two slabs of solid walnut and glass, measuring 15 feet high by 7 feet across. The general contractor thought the doors might be the largest in Manhattan—they're certainly contenders for the heaviest. To ensure they'd open and close easily, the structural engineer worked out a special hinging system with ball bearings and built a steel counterbalance in the door frames.
Only the envelope of this highly considered interior feels raw and industrial. Hopley sandblasted the original brick walls; the floor, though new, is distressed-looking recycled Canadian maple, chosen for its chocolate color and glossy texture. The contrast between furnishings and shell makes a bit of a fashion statement itself, Hopley points out: "It's like pairing your favorite old jeans with a tailored jacket."