September 16, 2019

Inside Manolo Blahnik’s New Tokyo Flagship by Nick Leith-Smith

Manolo Blahnik's new Tokyo flagship features a blue and orange checkerboard rug and gray walls
In Manolo Blahnik’s new Tokyo flagship, a checkerboard rug creates rigor beneath vintage arm chairs by Walter Gropius. Photography by Natalie Dinham.

Nick Leith-Smith has designed more than 60 retail outlets for Manolo Blahnik, from exhibitions to new-build pavilions, but it’s safe to say that that in their 20-year working relationship he’d never received a brief quite like the one for Blahnik’s new flagship in Tokyo’s famed Omotesando district: “Bauhaus Sanitarium.”

“I was immediately excited,” Leith-Smith says. “We embarked on a rigorous research process, and the brief came to life in the form of a design that was somewhat clinical, but minimalistic and functional.” The 1,800-square-foot space, contained with a concrete slab structure, incorporates a ground floor women’s department with a ceiling that needed to remain exposed, due to regulations. “It became an opportunity for us to play with the concept of utilitarian character of our concept,” Leith-Smith explains. “We found a solution that would also become a design feature in its own right, by using galvanized steel to form a slatted screen across the ceiling. The screens taper up to the glazed front façade to complete the retail space with dramatic effect.”

Manolo Blahnik’s New Tokyo flagship is Minimalist and Functional

Shoes are displayed on pedestals near padded gray walls
The vertical ribs of the padded walls echo display columns for men’s shoes on the second floor of the new Nick Leith-Smith-designed Manolo Blahnik flagship in Tokyo. Photography by Natalie Dinham.

Upstairs has its own drama: A gallery corridor is bound by polished steel on one side, and plush ribbed padding on the other; elsewhere, a wall secrets a whiskey cabinet. But it’s the window displays that truly intoxicate Leith-Smith. “The suspended shelf system,” he says, “creates a playful illuminated structure. It works so beautifully with Manolo Blahnik’s collection. The craftsmanship provides a contemporary stage for the intricate colorful collections to be presented, and for customers to marvel at.” It’s enough to drive even the most devoted Bauhaus—and Blahnik—fan crazy.

Walk Through Manolo Blahnik’s Tokyo Flagship Designed by Nick Leith-Smith

Manolo Blahnik's new Tokyo flagship store features a men's salon with bright red and blue chairs and yellow and brown ottomans
In the Manolo Blahnik Tokyo flagship’s men’s salon, a Rug Company semi-circular pattern emphasizes the display of five elevated styles beneath pendants. Photography by Natalie Dinham.
The double-height facade of Manolo Blahnik's new Tokyo flagship
The double-height façade of the new Manolo Blahnik flagship in Tokyo reveals aluminum shelves with integrated lighting, connected from ground to ceiling by tension cables. Photography by Natalie Dinham.
A long steel table displays shoes in Manolo Blahnik's new Tokyo flagship
A six-foot-long steel table extends across the main entrance floor of the Manolo Blahnik store in Tokyo. Photography by Natalie Dinham.
Manolo Blahnik's new Tokyo flagship features a ceiling with steel slats
The ceiling of the new Manolo Blahnik flagship in Tokyo is galvanized steel slats, which reveal the concrete structure. Photography by Natalie Dinham.

Read more: Nick Leith-Smith on Designing Dozens of Stores for Manolo Blahnik

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