Following the success of Stephan Jaklitsch’s recent installation at Shelly Steffee’s boutique in the Meatpacking district, we caught up with the world-renowned architect and popular designer about the relationship between architecture and fashion. The duo have worked together in the past—Jaklitsch, architect of Marc Jacobs’ stores, actually designed Steffee’s 2,300-square-foot retail space—but as both industries march on into the future, it’s dually appropriate to evaluate their creative convergence.
JC Report: Why do architecture and fashion have a symbiotic relationship?
Shelly Steffee: Both create an experiential intimacy, a physical and sensory interaction with humanity. Both negotiate form and function with color, shape and texture.
Stephan Jaklitsch: Architecture and fashion are both creative fields, which use the outward expression of the other to telegraph status and creativity. They reinforce and lend legitimacy to each other. As architects, we strive, when designing a retail project, for a cohesive environment that both intrigues buyers and complements the merchandise on display, but most importantly, reflects the spirit of the brand.
JCR: Do you find the approach to be similar? If not, how are they different?
SS: As a fashion designer, I would say yes—clothing designers are architects of garments. There is also a legacy of clothing designers, who have trained as architects, such as Gianfranco Ferré.
SJ: The role of fashion and the role of architecture are different. Both are creative expressions that require their own levels of skill and technique, and both may be their own form of exploration using form and material. However, they serve very different functions and have very different half-lives. Fashion tends to cycle every six months, while architecture, due to its investment requirements and scale, needs to endure far longer. Good architecture should resist easy consumption. The strategy I employ in our retail designs is to serve as an appropriate setting for the merchandise; to draw you in and let you explore without overwhelming the product. The architecture sets a tone for the brand and contributes to the experience.
JCR: Why is a store’s architecture important to the customer experience?
SS: The store’s architecture is another physical and visual extension of the spirit of the clothing, the tenets of the brand. At its best, it should naturally guide you to discover and appreciate the clothing it houses and showcases. The architecture should engage, nurture and inspire you.
SJ: Shopping is a deeply personal experience, and people really identify with the brands they buy, so it is important that customers connect with the space. The store becomes a physical extension of the brand identity, and in some cases can even help to shape that identity.
JCR: Do you think its significance will increase as retailers struggle to get shoppers to buy?
SS: It is an opportunity to give your brand a point of difference. It also confirms the relevancy of this type of shopping experience by seducing the customer within a 3-D perspective, which is different from shopping in other mediums, such as online. Shopping should be a joyous and emotional experience—especially when times are tough.
SJ: I think certain retailers have always believed the idea that a well-designed store helps them to stand out from the competition and provide their customers a unique experience. As the market struggles, I imagine more retailers will look for ways to differentiate themselves—and one way to do that is to rethink their retail spaces. I think a well-designed store will always be a competitive advantage.
JCR: What do you try to do in your work to engage consumers in stores?
SS: From the onset, I have believed that the store should serve as a cultural salon, a nerve center for the exchange of ideas, products—not all physical or clothing oriented—and sensations. Customer service is one of those sensations, the feeling that you are being taken care of by someone who has you and your best interest in mind, before anything is selected, tried on, or bought. It is paramount. One program we have initiated is fulfilling custom requests in two days, which has gotten really gratifying responses from the cleintele.
SJ: The goal is always to engage and intrigue the customer—to draw them in and let them explore. When we design a store, we always think about the arrival sequence, and how people will move through the store. For example, with Shelly Steffee we took the storefront’s large picture-frame window and treated it as a form of a sign—when it is pivoted open it actively engages pedestrians and draws them into the shop. We also created a series of thresholds and subtle shifts in geometry and materiality to entice customers towards the merchandise and the store’s more refined, private areas. This was achieved mostly through material selection—from the industrial steel and glass at the entry to the softer, veiling curtain and leather wall at the rear salon. The pacing through the store was intentional and designed to subtly engage the senses, and I think the strategy has been very successful. Each store has its own strategy that is appropriate to the brand and the architecture of the space. That specificity has always been a constant in our work.
JCR: What does a successful fashion and architecture marriage consist of? In your opinion, what recently built structures serve as models of this?
SS: A successful marriage consists of the profound ability to understand and translate the spirit of the clothing into a physical space that reflects and adds to the designer’s vision. Recent examples: Rick Owens and Atelier on Hudson or Yohji Yamamoto on Gansevoort.
SJ: A successful retail store is one that showcases the merchandise without overwhelming it – it should be a perfect complement. If you look at any of the work we have designed for Marc Jacobs you will notice that although each store is individually designed, they all have a deliberately understated sensibility to them that is appropriate to that brand. One of the best examples, I believe, of a perfect marriage between the store design and the clothing is at the Comme des Garcons store in Tokyo where each seems to be an extension of the other. It is brilliant and is flexible enough to be both familiar and constantly evolving. The Prada Epicenter down the street, however, I believe overwhelms the clothing. I love the building but it is such a strong architectural statement that the clothing seems secondary and I am left thinking of the building.
This interview was conducted by Robert Cordero.