Light follows people

At the heart of Antwerp there are 300 square meters of Japan: The Issey Miyake store in the Old Town orchestrates the white coolness and the reduced elegance of the Japanese fashion brand – with wall-washers, spotlights and downlights by Zumtobel. Luuk van Laake, a Dutchman who refers to himself as an “artistic engineer” and with his company Digiluce specializes in implementing light art projects, advised the owner Gustav Bruynseraede on the in-store illuminations and gave the concept momentum. A conversation about motion, atmosphere, and the right light for an evening gown.

Luuk van Laake describes himself as the “art engineer” and with his company digiluce advices above all artists when they realizing their light art projections. Photo © Jelmer de Haas Photography

Jasmin Jouhar: The design of the Miyake shop in Antwerp is primarily the fruit of the owner’s ideas. Did he have specific preferences from the outset?

Luuk van Laake: Gustav combines two characteristics: on the one hand a sound understanding of what works commercially, and on the other an almost artistic passion for the brand he is representing. At the very beginning I asked him what story he wanted the new store to tell. His answer: The brand and the clothes are the focal point. The way the shop is staged was not meant to imply a second related story being told, as the fit-out was “merely” intended to support the brand’s image. The store was destined to be like a fashion show, in which the models walk in line and are illuminated by spotlights.

300 square meters of Japan at the heart of Antwerp: the Issey Miyake Shop is open, bright and transparent in appearance. Photo © Zumtobel

So what for him constitutes the Issey Miyake brand?

Luuk van Laake: He was enthralled by the experimental side from the outset: Miyake does a lot of research into technical textiles, which are then used in the collections. Furthermore, the brand attracts a particular clientele. The better-off who are very interested in art and culture and generally like to nurture their good taste.

Compact LED spotlights by Zumtobel: Panos Evolution. Photo © Zumtobel

What role did you play in the concept?

Luuk van Laake: Though I’m an engineer by training I work with digiluce in the artistic domain and try to combine art and science in a meaningful way. I help artists to realize kinetic and interactive light installations. With this particular project my role was primarily that of consultant. Here I aimed to put my experience with interactive light to use and adapt it to this different context. We equipped the rooms with motion sensors, for example: When customers enter the store as they proceed through it, so everything becomes brighter, very subtly, but noticeably nonetheless. The light “follows” the people. In the changing cubicles there is dynamic lighting, too, thus “welcoming” customers. Moreover, thanks to the “tunable white” technology, the employees can also whenever needed alter the color of the light themselves. A customer would perhaps prefer to try on an evening gown in subdued lighting, while for a business suit a bright setting similar to natural daylight is more suitable.

The Miyake Shop was outfitted using Zumtobel’s TGRfashion technology as well as components from its Intro, Panos Infinity and Microtools luminaires systems. Photo © Zumtobel

How did you stage the shop window? It is an open space connected directly to the store.

Luuk van Laake: The Issey Miyake shop is located in an extremely beautiful, listed building with a large front window. The predecessor store, which incidentally Bruynseraede also ran, had large dark brown metal elements, which reached from floor to ceiling. Though it looked good, it also totally separated the shop window from the actual shop. The rooms now look far more open, and you can see the entire front section of the store from the street. We designed the lighting to heighten this sense of openness and depth still further. Dynamic light with different degrees of brightness creates an impression of motion and directs attention to the dresses and suits.

Because all the modules can be combined, there is a huge range for designs for retail outlets; here you see some of the LED spotlights in the Intro series. Photo © Zumtobel

How did the collaboration with Zumtobel come about?

Luuk van Laake: I played a minor liaising role. I had already had a good working relationship with Zumtobel and the chief designer there Rogier van der Heide on other projects and thought it could work well. Global companies such as Zumtobel and Issey Miyake like having equal partners, who likewise have international operations, and Zumtobel had already fitted out a different Issey Miyake shop. Gustav Bruynseraede and I then paid a visit to the Zumtobel showroom in Antwerp and found out about the products; there we were able to test the quality of the light, as well the “TGRfashion technology”, a special lighting solution for clothing, on various textiles. We also liked the “micro-tools”, small module spotlights, which can be used to orchestrate items. The employees in the Design department at Zumtobel then came up with a detailed lighting plan and devised simulated lighting for the store in Antwerp. That was the basis on which we were able to realize the concept.

Intro Litecarve delivers excellent light distribution on vertical surfaces. Photo © Zumtobel

Do the interactive elements in the lighting have any benefit other than their practical aspects?

Luuk van Laake: It goes without saying that a high-end brand such as Issey Miyake likes to be presented using state-of-the-art technical developments – in a sense the lighting in the shop in Antwerp reflects the company’s technical savvy. The reacting light is of course one element of the positive surprise for visitors.
Furthermore we are, however, also convinced that customers feel more welcome if the light in a shop responds to them directly. As a scientist I’m a little cautious and would not want to maintain that one feels far better in this particular store than elsewhere, as that is difficult to prove. But we certainly wanted to create a feel-good atmosphere – a space in which one gladly lingers for a lengthier period of time, perhaps even wants to play with the lighting effect. And if the shop owner, the architect, and the lighting expert make this sense of well-being their major objective, I’m sure that the customers in the shop can sense it as well.

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