The rise of Berlin’s retail gothic

Long dominated by shabby chic, low-key interiors, Berlin’s retailers have lately adopted a wittier design aesthetic. John Stones takes a look at Geometry, a new menswear store which features a ‘mad professor’ look with a skeletal twist

Think Berlin and a certain alternative style comes to mind. From the subcultures that developed in Kreuzberg to the vibrant scene that developed after unification, Berlin has a particularly distinct, dishevelled look that sets it apart from the rest of Germany. But, as always, the passage from genuine counter-culture to passing fashion whim is almost inevitable, and what was once exciting becomes a cliché that brands look to cash in on.

For instance, Berlin was the first home of the influential Comme des Garçons ‘guerrilla’ store, which seemed to ‘squat’ in a bookshop on the Karl-Marx-Allee. The old shopfront had the words ‘Karl Marx’ heavily emblazoned above windows through which you could see boxes of (very expensive) Comme des Garçons clothing nonchalantly scattered about. Marxism and the ‘alternativ’ style had become a fashion ambience – almost like a perfume that you can spray on.

Alexander Plajer, co-founder of Berlin-based architecture and design practice Plajer & Franz, professes himself thoroughly bored with the whole look. ‘The mass of stores with the shabby chic look, unrendered walls and chandelier-draped ceilings has become quite tiresome, especially here in Berlin,’ he says pointedly.

So when he met Raphael Meyer and Carmen Santos at a party and found out that they wanted to open a new kind of menswear store but were struggling to come up with a design approach, he jumped at the chance. The store was to sell high-end fashion to young, fashion-conscious males, with clothing brands such as Gaspard Yurkievich, Irie Wash, Y3 and Won Hundred, accompanied by accessories by John Galliano and a selection of home knick-knacks by well-known designers. But all the clients had to go on was a name – Geometry. It transpired that Meyer had studied maths and idolised his mathematics professor at university. Plajer says he and his colleagues didn’t want to interpret the name and this interest too literally, by plastering obviously mathematical images around the store. This would be patronising and dull, they thought. Instead, the team a Plajer & Franz came up with the idea of creating a shop that would be like walking into the weird and wonderful apartment of the maths professor. It would be a space to give the visitor a slightly disconcerting voyeuristic twinge, yet be domestic and warm. And certainly not shabby.

The lighting levels were kept deliberately low, to suggest the heavy curtains drawn in the eccentric professor’s apartment. And the occasional item of furniture, such as a 1950s chair, pointed to his eclectic good taste. Skeletons, as emblems of symmetry, were to be the main decoration, however. Luckily, the wife of one of the design team was a vet and able to advise on how to go about finding appropriate animal skeletons. A variety of these were specially photographed for the store, and the final selection includes a zebra, a wild boar and a hippopotamus. The large photographs were printed on matt paper so as to dampen reflections.

The ribs of the animal skeletons are echoed by the lights hanging from the ceiling. Designed by Miguel Herranz for Luzifer, the Mikado suspension lamp also had the felicitous suggestion of a parlour game, apt for this fictitious domestic interior. And while Plajer & Franz usually does the graphics for its projects, on this occasion it recommended local consultancy Studio 38, which worked on the logo and accompanying graphics.

Geometry, Gipsstraße 23, 10119 Berlin Mitte, Germany

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