Over the past several decades, as fashion has shifted its emphasis from couture to ready-to-wear, designers have increasingly looked to interior designers and architects to help enhance a label’s cachet and brand identity. Since the beginning of the boutique makeover movement, Pierre Beucler and Jean-Christophe Poggioli have been in the vanguard. First causing a stir with their revolutionary design for Yohji Yamamoto’s store on Rue le Bon Marché in Paris, built in the 1980s, Beucler and Poggioli’s Paris-based firm, Architecture & Assocés went on to design stores and showrooms for other relatively new labels like Comme des Garcons, and doyennes such as Christian Dior. We want to give a new impulse to the spirit of Christian Dior. And we are reinterpreting the traditional “codes” of Dior. For us, the classical Dior was too heavy.
Most of Poggioli and Beucler’s work has been in France and Japan. Designing stores for such different cultures and labels has provided the designers with a unique perspective on the tension between the modern and the traditional within the decorative arts. Through their distinctive store designs, they also address one of contemporary fashion’s perennial dilemmas: how to create an aura for mass-produced clothing. In some cases, Beucler and Poggioli reinterpret traditions to give them a modern twist, and in others they are creating futuristic aesthetics. The main challenge in designing a store for a fashion label, according to Poggioli, is maintaining a strong identity while creating a new and exciting shopping experience. The designer discussed his firm’s work by telephone from Paris.
We want to give a new impulse to the spirit of Christian Dior. And we are reinterpreting the traditional “codes” of Dior. For us, the classical Dior was too heavy.
Alex Ulam: Can you describe your approach to store design?
Jean-Christophe Poggioli: First, it is the image or impact from the street — “This is the label and not something else.” The goal of luxury brands is to recognized but also offer something new, a surprise. Second is the entrance — the act of going into a shop for us is like the opening of the red curtain in the theatre. It should be an experience, the strongest moment of the visit. Third, we think about the merchandizing of the shop. For the last twenty years, fashion has been about ready-to-wear, mass market, and being international. Our mission in designing a shop is to always find new ideas for luxury brands so that they can explore the ambiguity between choice and exclusivity.
How did the advent of ready-to-wear lines have an impact on store design?
Ready-to-wear is in and up-to-date for only a few weeks or months. So the architecture should be connected with something ephemeral and be able to exist by itself for a few years, showing the force of the label and the impact of the people who created this label. We believe there are two choices in this case, either to be really strong and revolutionary, or to be more institutional and classic.
You have also worked on designing galleries for the Louvre and the Museé Cernuschi in Paris. How does your work on museums relate to designing fashion stores?
The approach is completely different from designing a store, but the objective is the same: present things (art, clothes) in as good a way possible so as to attract people. Most of the time, there is a long process to working on museums. For instance, it took us five years for the Galeries Campana and Charles X in the Louvre. But when we design a museum, we know that the design may have to last for fifty years, whereas a shop design should be quick and reactive.
You designed stores for Christian Dior both in Tokyo and at on the Rue Royale in Paris. What are some of your major themes for Dior?
We want to give a new impulse to the spirit of Christian Dior. And we are reinterpreting the traditional “codes” of Dior. For us, the classical Dior was too heavy. So we used some moldings, but only a few. We also try to keep the idea of going from one room to another rather than having one big open space, but between the different rooms there should be cuts or breaks between classicism and modernism. So we play on the contrast between the different classical elements used by Dior, such as the gray lacquered panels; and modern elements, using new materials like polished stainless steel. For us, the traditional gray color of Dior can be reinterpreted or expressed by a mirror or polished stainless steel.
We also use the traditional Dior gray, but we don’t want to make it like before with just a matte quality. So, for example, in places we create a pulsing energy with gray and white lacquered panels. We also put white stone on the floor in all the Dior shops that we design, whereas before, Dior used mainly beige or yellow marble.
The point for us was to reinterpret Dior, one the one hand keeping the codes very Parisian and old-style, but also modernizing it.
What is fundamentally Parisian about Dior?
Dior has the Parisian style of the late nineteenth century Hausmann style. (Baron Hausmann rebuilt much of Paris during the late nineteenth century) It’s classical in that you go from one room inside, with everything visible, and there are a lot of moldings. For instance, when you are in the shop, you feel that everything is open, because of the very high ceiling. The walls stop before the ceiling, but we keep the walls so that you have the feeling of passing from one room to the other, like the Hotel Particular, the classic house of Paris from the nineteenth century.
You appear to have a more modern approach in Tokyo than in Paris.
Yes, in Tokyo it is easier to install a strong concept. There are really strange things; it is difficult to explain this feeling of strangeness. Tokyo is a sum of different surprises. At every corner there is an emotional shock. There is a succession of different architectural styles, which are most of the time very free in terms of design and code. For instance, there are traditional houses adjacent to modern office buildings. It’s easier to install a modern design in Tokyo than in a stone building in Paris, for example. You can go further. In Paris you can be more sophisticated — it’s easier to be a fool in Tokyo.
Describe your work with Comme des Garcons versus Christian Dior.
It is completely different. Christian Dior is a sort of institution; it exists for a long time. Comme des Garcons is each time a new energy, a new experience. It is more alternative, more anarchist. It was very interesting working with (Comme des Garcons founder) Rei Kawakubo on the shop in Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honore. Each time we worked with her, she wanted to mix different personalities and energies.
In the 1980s, you worked on Yohji Yamamoto’s first Paris shop. What was that experience like?
We worked on the famous shop in Rue Etiènne, Marcel, but the street does not have same spirit today. It was the starting point of the new ready-to-wear lines, too. At first, this type of store was a shock. There were cement floors instead of wood, white walls, and one shirt on a table. That’s all. Everything was new for the eyes of people who live in Paris. Up until then, the shops were dusty and suddenly Comme des Garcons arrives with a fresh energy and revolutionary things to say.
Is there a particular aesthetic that runs through your work?
We don’t want to impose our style on the fashion houses that we work for. We try to find the idea or the spirit of the particular house that we are working for. The target is to really show that we understand the creation of the fashion designers through our architecture.
Do you have a personal aesthetic? How is your home designed?
My house is simple. The most important thing for me is volume; it is not necessary to be big. The space can be made interesting by its proportions. I like surprises, and I love simple materials such as concrete and wood. The color can be given by the shadows during the day. Daylight is one of the most important things.