Back to black

Architect Jamie Fobert has collaborated with Givenchy’s fashion designer Riccardo Tisci to create some art-infused and highly conceptual interiors for the brand’s new Paris flagship. Caroline Roux is intrigued by the results

Those who think of high fashion as a rather in-your-face-affair would have been surprised at the recent unveiling of the new Givenchy store in Paris’s rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. As the black plastic was removed from its fully glazed front, only three garments greeted onlookers and behind them a series of shiny resin walls. Is introversion the new black?

Architect Jamie Fobert was on the pavement outside as the plastic was peeled away, clearly delighted with the results of his combined labours with Givenchy womenswear designer Riccardo Tisci. A double first, this is both Fobert’s initial store design (he doesn’t count an Aveda store/salon) and Tisci’s first interior for the label since his tenure at Givenchy. The latter was also celebrating being given the additional role of menswear designer the night before – a significant move that means he is now in far greater control of the brand – and his entire family (seven siblings, partners and parents) had turned up to help him mark the occasion.

Fobert is best known as the architect of some exceptional houses including the Anderson House in central London, which is slotted between existing buildings and has no outside elevation. He is also, after much wrangling among locals, working on an extension to the Tate St Ives, as well as an addition to Kettle’s Yard gallery in Cambridge. A protégé of David Chipperfield, he’s not closely associated with the fashion world. But while many place architecture higher in the design hierarchy than fashion, Fobert relished the experience of working so closely with Tisci. ‘He has an immense sensitivity to materials and the feel of things, both physically and emotionally. As an architect you lose that hyper-sensitivity – I guess you get ground down by the building business – and it was great to access it again.’

Nonetheless, Fobert’s architectural sensibility is writ large here. The space, just 300m2, is punctuated by four boxes whose shiny black walls turn out to be charred oak coated in two layers of clear resin. ‘We did want to play with the idea of assumptions,’ says Fobert. ‘You assume it is black lacquer – very standard fashion fare – until you get up close and discover its something really unexpected.’ The uneven, organic charring just shows through the resin. Facing towards the back of the store, each box is then cut into differently to create a huge display crate, and lined with castings of various panellings: one in plaster and taken from the original Givenchy haute couture salon in Avenue George V, another from a Louis XV apartment. One even has wall panels covered in exquisite leather.

This negative imaging is not a chance reference to Rachel Whiteread. ‘Ricardo’s points of reference were other stores – he’d say “it’s too Gucci, too Dior”. Mine were architectural. So we brought it all back to fine art. There are references to Joseph Beuys [in the stacked drawers topped with glass vitrines], Whiteread and Louise Bourgeois,’ says Fobert. The last is visible in the fourth box with its rich chestnut parquet floor and intense wood panelling, which can be shut off from the rest of the shop with a hidden door, to create a VIP salon. Next up for Givenchy and Fobert are four shops for China, which promise to be a distilled version of this art-infused Parisian flagship.

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