Lightness: Shohei Shigematsu

Shohei Shigematsu incorporates the pacing of fashion into his architectural design. Here he explains the office’s relationship to fashion houses and clothing stores.

Helming the OMA NYC office known for its ability to rethink problems with a highly iterative design process, Shohei Shigematsu incorporates the pacing of fashion into his architectural design. Here he explains the office’s relationship to fashion houses and clothing stores.

ARQ: Can you speak to the relationship between architecture and fashion as you’ve experienced it in your career?

Shohei: I think the speed of fashion is always something that you get impressed by. I learn a lot from how they deal with the speed of creation, because you know how many collections they have.

ARQ: They give you so many iterations.

Shohei: And when there’s an idea, they can immediately make a prototype, they can immediately see what they have thought about. I think that’s the part that they’re used to, and oftentimes I can feel that they’re a little irritated by the architectural process because the architect is much slower, and you can never actually see the final, final outcome in a true manner. You can only experience it through renderings and models. So the speed is also something that I’m always conscious of when I deal with fashion and I think there’s something that we can both learn from. I think they can also be a little bit more conscious of the long-term process and I think that it’s basically a very complementary relationship in terms of the time and the process.

Another thing I often feel impressed by in the fashion and architecture relationship is how fashion can actually be very frivolous, in a very good sense. It doesn’t mean it’s light. I’m not measuring what’s light or heavy or deep, but they can be so frivolous and have a sense of humor, a sense of color—the kinds of intuitive things that in architecture people tend to forget. I think that may be a little similar to landscape architecture, but in fashion, people can be very emotional, very irrational, frivolous. I think that’s the part I often miss; I’m trying to introduce that kind of mentality within architecture, but somehow it’s very difficult to be taught and to teach, so I don’t really know how to introduce that in a systematic manner.

ARQ: How did the design process work with Coach, a recent client of yours? In what respects do you think your design was influenced by their style? The building is static, it’s there forever. The fashion keeps changing.

Shohei: Well, I think that it’s actually quite amazing. Coach, as a company, has such diversity in their products. Ironically, when a brand wants to rethink their environment or identity, it’s when they’re expanding, when they’re doing really well. Ironically, that’s the moment that they rethink and it’s actually a very interesting moment as an architect to be engaged in. On one hand they’re expanding, creating more and more diversity, options, different environments, but they tend to lose or start to become anxious about their brand aura.

ARQ: They may look to the architecture to redefine their brand.

Shohei: Right. Redefining is maybe too much of a word, but to help them realize what kinds of assets should be communicated through the physical. So we design something that is a very simple collection, a simple repetition of a unit, but that hopefully will embrace the diversity that the brand has.

ARQ: What’s the logic of rebranding themselves when they’re doing so well? Are they always looking ahead?

Shohei: I think that’s why I wouldn’t call it a rebranding. It’s just clarifying what they have always been, so it’s not really rebranding but repositioning, rethinking. I think they also have such a fast pace of expansion. Unfortunately, they don’t really have much time to think, and I think they need a counterpart or alter-ego to really look at themselves through someone’s eye. An architect could be a perfect example because it’s directly connected to the shopping environment and to the brand’s identity.

ARQ: Absolutely.

Shohei: I think in fashion and architecture there is a lot of collaboration, but it’s rare to have a good synergy, because a lot of fashion designers or architects both have ways they want to draw a line somewhere. But I think the most successful cases, like how Hermes and Prada did it, took out that line as much as possible in every sense and created a complete merger of the two creative entities. I think that made the whole process much more interesting and dynamic, and the outcome is also very diverse.

ARQ: And the relationship has kept on for a long time. They’ve been able to explore a lot of areas, not just the retail space but a lot of other aspects.

Shohei: I think the density of display is often associated with luxury—you know, the lower the density, the better the luxury brand. But I didn’t really like that, so we just finished a denim brand store called Raleigh Denim in SoHo. It’s a store that has a kind of wire-framed space where you can actually hang all the displays. And I thought, they can control the density as the owner of this store from, let’s say, a kind of sample sale, which has the greatest density to, as you were saying, only 10 pairs of denim. I thought, the ultimate luxury is for the brand to be in control. Yesterday was this and tomorrow is that in fashion, so again, this is something that maybe I learned from fashion people and somehow retranslated into architecture. If you listen to them, they are so used to the fast pace, they always have to reinvent, so I just wanted to give them armature that serves a basic purpose. The rest of the re-creation and re-densification or de-densifying of the store is up to them.