Propelled by the same can-do attitude that has made the San Francisco native a success, the 42-year-old designer is set to unveil his latest benchmark next month: a 2,800-square-foot boutique at 10-12 Crosby Street on the ground floor of a 19th-century manufacturing building in the lower SoHo district of Manhattan.
This being Lam's first stand-alone retail outlet, the former designer at Michael Kors who started his eponymous line with partner Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann in 2002 wanted to ensure that relevance would be maintained long-term. The solution? Tap internationally esteemed firm SANAA, who as art and architecture buffs will recognize, designed the New Museum of Contemporary Art a little more than half a mile away. In fact, SANAA's chief architects, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, were among Lam's very first customers.
"I am thrilled to work with architects who share my design philosophy and whose work I so greatly admire," says Lam, an industry favorite who won the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Perry Ellis-Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent in Womenswear in 2005 and Accessory Designer of the Year in 2007. "SANAA has created a retail environment that is minimalist, functional, intimate, and warm. The store concept will be an important step toward solidifying the identity of the brand."
Lam first met Sejima and Nishizawa in 2005 and immediately began plotting a collaboration to create a space marked by "modern sensibilities, calculated simplicity, and highly perfected detailing."
The results are a transparent canvas of modulating acrylic curved walls that serve to both showcase and illuminate Lam's sensuous clothing. The architect's museum-design prowess is most evident in the original brick walls, which have been painted white to create an exhibitlike atmosphere. Custom-fitted furniture made of wood and aluminum, meanwhile, complement the one-pour concrete floor. To showcase the designs, transparent organic forms crafted of clear acrylic create rooms within the store — podlike, almost — each one housing a different collection. Sunlight floods in thanks to a large front facade of windows facing east.
The store will carry Lam's full array of ready-to-wear and accessories collections (handbags and sunglasses). The T-juncture of Crosby and Howard Streets in Downtown New York City provides Lam with the rare opportunity to be in both art and fashion spheres. Not only is the New Museum minutes away, but so are such fashionable neighbors as jewelry designer Ted Muehling, antiques specialist De Vera, custom furniture store BDDW, and the Jil Sander boutique.
"I am interested in what it means to live a contemporary life," says Lam, who in 2008 sold a controlling stake in Derek Lam International to the luxury-goods holding company Labelux Group. "I always consider what will work for women at this moment, and to me this moment is about luxury without formality. Even at their most feminine, my clothes are not precious or staid."
The DUMBO-based firm Solid Objectives - Idenburg Liu — whose founders, Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, are former SANAA employees — realized the two floors above the boutique, which house an atelier, offices, and a showroom.
Lam's boutique represents SANAA's fifth retail project. In the last few years, the firm has created the HH Style boutique (2000) in Tokyo, the Prada Beauty boutique (2001) in Hong Kong, and two projects in Tokyo, the Issey Miyake by Naoki Takizawa boutique and the Christian Dior building, both completed in 2003. SANAA is currently working on several high-profile projects worldwide, including an extension to the Louvre in Lens, France, museum projects in Oporto and Valencia, and a university campus in Switzerland.
While the store has yet to announce a confirmed opening date — originally slated to open in early April, construction delays forced a postponement — a spokeswoman for the company said it will bow the first week in May. An invitation-only cocktail party will take place on May 6.
Image courtesy of Derek Lam