Longchamp, the French luggage and leather goods company, calls its new SoHo store “La Maison Unique.” Longchamp ceo Philippe Cassegrain said, “This project is in no way a new sales concept to be deployed the world over. It is a unique architectural ensemble, a one-of-a-kind event.”
The Cassegrain family, which founded Longchamp in 1948, was struck by the spaciousness, high ceilings and structural details of the two-story building, on Spring and Greene streets. But for London designer Thomas Heatherwick, it was a “runty shoe box of a building.” The ground floor space was just 1500 square feet squeezed between two other spaces. There was, however, a 4500-square-foot second floor. And the Cassegrain’s committed to adding a third.
Now how to draw people into the store and up? Voilà! The centerpiece of the space is an incredible undulating ribbon of a staircase that probably eclipses Prada’s as the seminal retail staircase in lower Manhattan.
Heatherwick once designed a zipper bag for Longchamp. This staircase is that zipper run rampant. Working with Shawmut Design and Construction (Boston and New York), Hillside Ironworks (Albany, N.Y.) built and installed the 55-ton ribbon steps, sliced steel sculpted into a series of rocky slopes, that flow out of the floor with the fluidity of billowing fabric, accented by curved glass panels.
Large skylights flood the space with sunlight. In fact, the corner location allows for lots of large windows, creating a plethora of natural light that spreads throughout the entire store. “Like insects, people are attracted to light,” Heatherwick says.
The illusion of unsupported weightlessness is achieved with cantilevering below ground and by attaching the staircase to the interior core wall. The terra cotta-colored rubber coating provides a neutral palette for Longchamp’s elegantly streamlined and colorful handbags, luggage, leather and silk accessories, while also giving traction for pedestrian traffic.
But this isn’t just a staircase. Every exposed steel seam is a strip viable for magnetized fixture displays. Custom-made, unobtrusive adjustable pedestals can be modeled to any subtle curve on the up-ramp and there are also magnetized hooks that can be used to suspend bags from beneath the stairs as well.
Heatherwick used 47 polycarbonate panels with a scratch-proof coating, the same material used in luxury yacht windshields and high-end automobile headlamps.
Upstairs, 4500 square feet of gallery space unfurls on the second floor beneath curved panels of plywood descending from a false ceiling. One by one, the plywood panel layers peel back like banana skins as they reach the floor, flaring out to become display shelves. As this forest of irregular shelving is inset a few feet from the tall windows, it shields the expensive leather products from direct sunlight.
On the third floor, Longchamp built a VIP area and one of SoHo’s few exterior patio spaces.
Heatherwick envisioned shoppers making their way to the top “like a hillside with goats climbing up winding paths.” New Yorkers may be insulted by the comparison, but they’ll surely make the trek.
Longchamp, Paris : Jean Cassegrain, general director
Design: Heatherwick Studio, London - Thomas Heatherwick, principal/designer; Thomas Chapman-Andrews, designer
Architect: Atmosphere Design Group, Mount Kisco, N.Y. - Louis Loria, principal; Rico Gatmaitan, architect
Outside Design Consultants: Hillmann DiBernardo Leiter Castelli, New York (lighting); Building Structural Services, Southington, Conn. (engineering); O’Dea Lynch Abbattista & Associates, Hawthorne, N.Y. (mechanical/electrical/plumbing)
General Contractor: Shawmut Design and Construction, New York - Tom Beyer, project manager; Ilya Asanovich, project superintendent
Audio/Visual - Media Services, North Bergen, N.J.
Ceilings - Imperial Woodworking, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Drywall & Acoustics of Northeast Inc., Buchanan, N.Y.
Fixtures - Imperial Woodworking, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Flooring - Haywood-Berk Floor Co. Inc., New York; Nora Rubber Flooring, Lawrence, Mass.
Lighting - Standard Electric Supply, Wilmington, Mass.
Mannequins/Forms, Props and Decoratives - Longchamp, Paris
Signage/Graphics - Red Visuals, Edgewood, N.Y.
Staircase - Hillside Ironworks, Albany, N.Y.
Photographer: Adrian Wilson, Interior Photography Inc., New York