All Aboard the S.S. Louis Vuitton
Play a word association game. Think of chic shops for Chanel, Céline, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton. Who comes to mind? Hint: He’s not French. It’s Interior Design Hall of Fame member Peter Marino, naturally. For Vuitton alone, Peter Marino Architect has completed more than 20 stores on three continents over the course of a 16-year relationship that’s still going strong. His most recent store, part of the massive mixed-use Marina Bay Sands development by Safdie Architects, is his first in Singapore, bringing the total there to five. The company’s director of architecture, David Mc Nulty, calls this new arrival “our major project of 2011.” Positively a gift to Asians gaga for the goods, it’s Vuitton’s most refined and complex yet.
The complexity derives largely from the unusual location. Encompassing 20,000 square feet, the mega-store consists of two components separated by a stretch of Marina Bay. The more conventional of the components is in the development’s predictably high-end shopping mall, while the real showstopper is a sparkling pavilion that appears to float in the water. All canted curtain walls of steel-framed glass, the two-level asymmetrical mass nicknamed the LV Island Maison is, in plan, basically two halves of a hexagon, slightly shifted. Since the location is waterfront, a boat-y feel was the goal.
Still, nothing is literally nautical. The atmosphere fits in with constants that Marino and Vuitton have developed. Rich woods and amber tones speak, sotto voce, of luxury, the kind that anyone paying upward of $2,000 for a handbag would expect. Here, the wood of choice is teak, stained in two shades. It abounds as flooring and millwork in both the island pavilion and the mall-a materials connection strong enough to unify very different architecture in the two loci. Nautical, too, are the white fabric bands shading the pavilion’s glass roof. Evocative of sailing, they help solve one of the project’s chief challenges, too much tropical sun. Even with UV-coated glass on the south and west elevations, those delicate leather goods require protection from the fierce rays.
Collection divisions are suggested in the pavilion, not rigidly enforced. Women’s ready-to-wear and travel accessories are displayed at various stations, the splashiest being a “bags bar” where shoppers seated at two counters, on high stools, can consider spring’s options in tangerine, lemon, or raspberry. That’s all on the double height side of the pavilion, while men’s travel apparel is on the mezzanine. Reached via a grand stairway, the mezzanine also houses the luggage sector and the VIP room and opens to a loggia addressing Vuitton’s steamer-trunk legacy by hinting at recollections of luxury liners. All is very fluid, though there’s nothing casual about the flow-not when choreographed by these master merchandisers and designers. Back in the two-level mall space, different kinds of items take over. Below is a bookstore capped by a stunning ceiling composition of slender strips of milky glass and white-painted MDF, which yield a light/shadow contrast when downlit by LEDs. Upstairs, eel skin, lace-wood, and bamboo set a luxe tone for handbags and, opposite them, watches and other jewelry.
The staircase in the mall space sweeps past a colorful mural by Ruben Toledo-evidence of Vuitton’s strong alliance with the contemporaryart world. (Remember the cult handbags by Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, and Richard Prince?) “Commissioned art is absolutely a part of Vuitton shops worldwide as well as a part of my work overall,” Marino says. “It’s something I’ve come to be known for.” The signature piece in Vuitton’s pavilion resulted from a trip to Paris, where he happened to see an exhibit of Richard Deacon’s sculpture. “I thought it would be a great fit at Marina Bay,” he adds.
So Deacon’s dealer, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, set up a rendezvous and then a site visit, after which Deacon conceived a suspended sculpture composed of horizontal undulating strands inspired by the surface of water. Vuitton’s Mc Nulty offers his own read, tying the piece to the brand: “It’s all about craft and making things well.” Despite the obstacles. At 49 feet long, the sculpture was too enormous to be transported in a single piece, so it was separated into three interlocking parts and assembled on-site before being hoisted 18 feet in the air.
The whole process required Deacon onboard for a month. With so much to see, not to mention buy, in both the pavilion and the mall, a link for shoppers determined to stay dry was obviously required.
Moshe Safdie provided two. The first is a bridge with a plank walkway, and the other is a tunnel à la European Chunnel. Marino fashioned the latter as a gallery with a gently vaulted, glowing stretched-fabric canopy. The people-mover passes a permanent installation of historic Vuitton luggage along one wall and changing exhibitions along the opposite one. Escalators connect the tunnel to the lower level of the pavilion.
To arrive there by ferry instead is, of course, rather more romantic. That’s the option conceived or VIP clientele looking to make a grand entrance.
MARIA WILTHEW; ENRIQUE PINCAY; YUUKI KITADA; ANNE TIMERMAN; KI HYUN SON; MASUO NAKAJIMA; SIMON WUTHERICH; ULI WAGNER; EDWARD BENEDICT; JENNIFER FITZGERALD: PETER MARINO ARCHITECT. LIGHTING PLANNERS ASSOCIATES: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. FTL DESIGN ENGINEERING STUDIO: SHADE CONSULTANT. FERRIER CHAN & PARTNERS: MEP. REDWOOD: WOODWORK. ISG: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.