Respect for the masters

John Pawson has designed a new flagship store for Jil Sander in Tokyo’s Omotesando district.

The first Jil Sander flagship store, which was opened in 1993 in Paris’ Avenue Montaigne, was a declaration of love to Minimalism, which the German designer also celebrated in her fashion. Together with architect Michael Gabellini, Sander designed an interior that primarily lived off the play of light on the bright sandstone and white walls, which lent the rooms an almost religious character. Since then there have been various twists and turns in the fashion brand’s story. The company was sold and resold. Sander left her label, returned and left again. From 2005 until 2012 Raf Simons again led the brand to global renown as chief designer. Yet things went quiet when he departed. In 2017 Lucie and Luke Meier assumed their posts as creative directors and appear to be on the point of returning the fashion label to its former splendor. 

Thus the brand’s new flagship store in Tokyo certainly has something of a ‘manifesto’ character. The Meiers selected an architect for the project who seems as though he almost has Jil Sander’s DNA: John Pawson. His design includes much of what was likewise of central importance to Gabellini and Sander. Indeed, Pawson’s design also lives off materiality, and he too seeks to create atmosphere by way of reduction. And still, the result is entirely different. For whereas Sander and Gabellini veritably staged the emptiness, Pawson seeks to infuse the Tokyo salesroom with as much serenity as possible. You can already view the entire store through the display window, which extends over the entire length of the front. Whereby the term “display window” is actually incorrect, because barring the premises themselves, nothing is displayed. Looking through the window, you first look down through an empty space to the basement level, where a large part of the sales space is located. In this opening a wide flight of stairs leads up to a mezzanine floor, where further retail space can be found. 

Perhaps the strongest influence on the mood of the space is the generous use of cherry wood, which Pawson employs for wall cladding, shelving units and furniture. The design’s orientation on the Japanese carpentry tradition is unmistakable. In contrast, the sandstone-slab floor and minimalist steel clothes rails reestablish the connection to the store in Avenue Montaigne. One piece of furniture that can be interpreted in manifold ways is a 1960s Braun audio system designed by Dieter Rams, which Pawson has positioned at the stairs. It references the German design tradition in which both the Jil Sander brand and Rams originated. Yet it is also a well-designed home item that emphasizes the almost private character of the space. Last but not least, it is a sign of the respect for the designer from Kronberg that Pawson and the Meiers share. (fap)