Now You See It
David Ling's Paris shop for Episode hatched a few experimental ideas.
Judy Fayard -- Interior Design, 6/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
"It's a blend of East and West, ancient and modern, natural and man-made," David Ling says of his Paris boutique for Episode, a fashion label based in Hong Kong.
The space, 925 square feet in a handsome 1921 building just off the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, was formerly a hair salon—a wide but shallow, high-ceilinged "bowling alley," according to Ling. The major advantage: three immense arched windows that double as perfect vitrines. "They're very theatrical, but they also eliminate a lot of wall space that might have been used for clothing display," Ling says. With the entry in the center, he adds, "There was no obvious way to orient the flow of traffic, to lead people to both ends of the store."
David Ling Architect overcame that drawback with the help of a series of floating planes extending from one side of the shop to the other. Along the rear wall, sweaters and accessories are laid out on a slim white bench built above an illuminated perimeter trough filled with smooth river stones. Right behind the arched windows, vignettes are staged on big boxes that seem suspended in midair; beneath each box is another cantilevered shelf. Running down the center of the shop are natural-finished walnut benches. These pieces provide more display space—and possible seating for "husbands and boyfriends," Ling says. "It's a less formal approach, sitting down among the goods."
Hanging garments are concentrated at either end of the shop. And they appear suspended in space, too, because the rods and hangers are hidden by drywall valences. The resulting niches are internally lit by fluorescents, heightening the ethereality.
The floor is paved in French limestone, with split levels creating the effect of islands between the rock-filled troughs. Choosing the limestone, Ling says, was a way of using a traditional local product that's also "incredibly elegant." Marble, meanwhile, defines the cash-wrap desk, a long box attached to the rear wall. The top of the desk is a marble slab. The face is clad in random-laid marble mosaic tiles, a sensuous textured finish that's "almost impossible not to touch," Ling says.
Colors are uniformly neutral: black, white, pale gray, and brown. "With a store," he adds, "the interior architecture should be strong, while merchandise supplies the color and variation."
Original plans called for a waterfall along the back wall, but the landlord categorically ruled that one out. To replace the sparkling water—"such an important part of Asian culture," Ling points out—he used a glass-beaded white wall covering. Opposite, propped between the arched windows, full-length elliptical mirrors are set in rectangular black-lacquered frames with a "cracked-ice" motif frequently used in Chinese architecture. In a Parisian context, the pattern also recalls the metalwork of the Eiffel Tower.
One of Ling's most arresting icons for the shop was the "egg," a tall, hollow, freestanding structure made of silver-lacquered foam with stylized Chinese characters, stenciled on the surface, reading wisdom and peace. His intention was to offer an organic, overscale juxtaposition with the many rectangular elements. Thanks to a curtained entrance and a center divider, the egg also provided a pair of fitting rooms—but not for long.
Episode buyer Bruno Paillard calls the egg a "very original concept" but explains that it took up too much valuable sales space. In a final irony, the same element that Paillard deemed too large was considered too small by customers, who found the dressing rooms cramped. So out the egg went.
"Modifications are often made to a store we've designed, to adjust to physical or visual merchandising needs," Ling says. "To anticipate that, we developed a kit of parts for Episode, the egg being just one piece. It became a trade-off between aesthetics and function, art and commerce."
A standard dressing room hides behind the rear wall, and more of Ling's practical walnut benches have replaced the experimental ovoid. "I believe a store can and should evolve in an interactive way," the architect says. "As long as the evolution occurs within the concept we set up."