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Gallery couture

By Vilma Barr
September 30, 2012

Photo: Courtesy of Ports 1961 and Archi-Tectonics
When Ports 1961 implemented its expansion program, the retailer looked east to Shanghai, a city in a perpetual fashion frame of mind. The company, which produces a couture line under its own label, had recently opened a successful shop-in-shop at Harvey Nichols in London, designed by Archi-Tectonics.

Ports 1961 once again retained the New York-based firm to create a distinctive boutique setting that would reflect the originality of its apparel and accessories collection. (Gabellini Sheppard Associates also contributed to the interior design.) A prime location was leased in Shanghai’s architecturally significant Bund district, with its blocks of Art Deco-influenced commercial buildings erected in the ’20s and ’30s, facing the Huangou River.

Winka Dubbeldam, founder and principal in charge at Archi-Tectonics, was influenced by the ships in Shanghai’s harbor and the lights that outline and accent their sleek shapes. “We were presented with a total open palette of 2,800 sq. ft. with 12-ft.-high ceilings that could house an art gallery or a museum exhibit,” Dubbeldam says. “It fit perfectly with the Ports 1961 image—to treat the products on display as works of art.”

Customers enter the new store through a 600-year-old wood and bronze door, and inside discover a gallery theme effectively integrated with lighting that resembles artist-applied brushstrokes of illumination.

The store’s primary architectural statement was created by lining the shop walls with softly curving horizontal wood panels finished in silver gray. Salvaged from an old house undergoing demolition, the wood was re-milled to impart a textured surface, then rubbed with silver paint and oil.

The store’s ambient lighting is provided by adjustable, recessed three-lamp fixtures fitted with 50-watt, low-voltage MR16 lamps by Cooper Lighting. Ports 1961 eschews racks and wall cases for garment display. “Instead, suspended twisted nickel bars for hanging apparel contribute to the gallery feel,” Dubbeldam notes. “This allows shoppers to examine the styles from all angles.” MR16 lamps are positioned above the suspended bars to provide accent illumination.

Mannequins suspended in groups by decorative rods are lit from above by recessed, warm, white, dimmable LED lighting from WAC Lighting, rated at 93 CRI with a 50,000-hour lifespan. The same recessed lamp is used under the low platforms along the shop’s sides, the free-form display islands positioned around the selling floor, and under the padded, felt, cushion-topped bench.

A sculptural use of transparent materials was applied at two locations on the selling floor. Shelves installed in hanging gauze vitrines are stocked with accessories, expressing an artistic interpretation of functional display. “A pair of chandeliers covered with softly draped mesh, not unlike the folds of the garments on the racks below, also assist with customers as wayfinding elements around the open-plan selling floor,” Dubbeldam says. Glowing inside of the 55-in.-long chandeliers are eight incandescent 25- to 40-watt candelabra lamps.

In a seating area amidst three changing rooms, a golden metallic, padded fabric wall is an elegant backdrop. Customers can view their selections in mirrors that pivot. Individual dressing rooms are lit from above by recessed downlights from Artemide. Mirrors here are framed by hidden linear 14-watt dimmable T5 fluorescent fixtures from Bartco, the same used in the store’s light coves.