Even before Alexander Wang began work on his debut collection for Balenciaga, he was charged with conceiving the brand's new New York boutique, the space for which had been leased and ready-to-go when Nicolas Ghesquière left the company in November 2012. Now two collections in, Wang is unveiling his retail vision, as the SoHo store—not to mention the men’s boutique, located just across Mercer Street—swings open its doors on Friday. Here, Wang and his longtime collaborator, the interior designer Ryan Korban, discuss the look.
What was the idea behind the design?
Ryan Korban: The main goal was to marry the heritage of Balenciaga with Alex’s energy and aesthetic. It was a fun challenge to create something new and fresh that also felt timeless and monumental. Balenciaga has a radical history, especially in introducing graphic silhouettes, so I tried to create strong shapes, and keep a very open feel to the space.
How did you go about that?
RK: The floors most represent the aesthetic we were after: laid with tiles of marble and limestone, they are a clear homage to those in the couture ** salons from Cristobal Balenciaga’s era. I played with this motif and introduced a chrome cabochon mixed with the classical stone to give it a modern twist. The building blocks of the store design are a mix of green marble and natural limestone. The green marble feels masculine and the limestone feminine, which is a balance that Balenciaga expresses through the clothes. To add a note of surprise, it was important to come up with an original material for the design. I’d been inspired by obscure “cracked resin” pieces that were mainly from the 1940s and ’50s, and finding an artisan who could work with the material in a new and modern way became a personal mission! The resulting “cracked resin” walls add a mineral luster to the space.
It's interesting how many of the design elements echo those of the first collection.
Alexander Wang: The second I started work on my first collection for Balenciaga I was also thinking about the design for the new flagship, so there’s a shared aesthetic and shared symbols. I thought of a rich, dark green to capture the elegance of the house, especially in suede, which is subsequently used as sequins in the runway collection as well as the dressing cabines in the new shop. Marble is the most prominent motif that I wanted to weave into the clothes as well as the store. It just felt substantial, permanent, classical—but in this shadowy greenish-black, it also felt unique and modern. All of the special textures and materials in the runway collection and the store design are synthesized in the signature chairs designed for the new flagship. When you sit in them you can feel the tactile “caviar” embroidery in the fabric—which I also used for gowns in the runway collection—but your arms will rest on green marble. Everything about those chairs is graphic, sharp and clean; hopefully these become new icons of the house.
Balenciaga’s new women’s store is located at 148 Mercer Street. The men's boutique is at 149 Mercer Street.