Contract Design Magazine

September 2014

Pop-up stores are equal parts theater, art installation, marketing, and merchandise, deploying high-concept retail environments for short periods of time to create an event, often one in which buzz is as important as sales. But what happens when the event horizon is accelerated from just a few months to just a few weeks?

One answer is 3.1 Phillip Lim Microcosm pop-up at the Shinjuku Isetan store in Tokyo, designed by Tokyo-based Schemata Architects, led by Jo Nagasaka—who had created a different pop-up for the brand featuring bags and shoes within the same store last year. During the period that this Microcosm pop-up is open from April through October this year, the space will undergo five total phases of renovations that each last about a month, reflecting the city’s unique and often avant- garde fashion culture.
The pop-up achieves maximum visual impact with a tiny number of design elements. It’s a highly mannered space, but has few walls, corridors, or structural elements. What the 735-square-foot space does have is mirrors. They cover virtually every surface. The materials and color schemes build towards a cool, shimmering, cacophonous retail panopticon.

Almost opposites
For inspiration, the client encouraged Nagasaka to consider four sets of near-opposite concept —dynamic/effortless, youth/elegance, classic/madness, and luxury/pragmatic—that define the 3.1 Phillip Lim brand. These’almost opposites,’ as Nagasaka calls them, act as incongruous outliers that breed creative tension and create a conceptual hook for Schemata’s design. ” ˜Almost’ is the keyword that represents the wide scope of Lim’s design directions, and it also liberates his ways of thinking,” says Nagasaka. “His philosophy is very open, [so you’re] able to see freedom in it.”

As one moves further into the store, first glances don’t distinguish clothes from reflections of clothes, or reflections of reflections of clothes. An astute celebration of fashion’s talent for ephemeral image-making, the space is rendered as a working retail environment, not a functionless art installation. Mirrors amplify the few other primary design elements, such as the needle-like pendant lights that hang from the ceiling—creating a feeling of intriguing tension—and the sticker sheet tiles on the floor. The mirrors dematerialize in the store, their reflections blending with the clothing racks and each other, distorting and refracting shapes and proportions. Altogether, it creates a nearly Cubist presentation of the New York–based Phillip Lim fashions, aided by the clothes’ strong, asymmetrical geometric patterns.

Though the pop-up store is busy and complex, its floor plan begins rationally and symmetrically. A large double-sided mirror at the front of the store divides it laterally, down a central axis. Circular product display plinths on both sides, also covered in mirrors, flank it. Equidistant from the center axis are two large rectangular columns. On the far side of each column are swooping, curvilinear partitions that display the Phillip Lim brand signage. The partitions shield the columns from view, which are further disguised by being covered in mirrors. The partitions contain a stock room, changing room, and a built-in clothes rack.

Reflections amplify the shopping experience
With all of the mirrored surfaces, just a few changes applied for each new phase of the pop-up are reflected endlessly. “We came up with the idea of using mirrors so we could maximize the impact for the customer each time we changed the space,” says Nagasaka, who diagrammed how all of the mirrors would work together before the space was built.

The sticker sheet floor tiles, for instance, radically reshape the space with each phase. Striped in one phase, the floor will feature flowing, geological patterns in teals and blues, or fine-grained earth tones in marble in another phase. And all get distorted and refracted in dozens of different directions by the mirrors. The sticker sheets are easy to replace, which means that transitioning the floor from one phase to another only takes about six hours.

This idea of oppositions that aren’t basic, binary opposites is what inspired the strong, axial layout of the store, subdivided into two halves. “First, we divide the space into two zones to emphasize the relationship of the two sides,” says Nagasaka. “Then we connected the two zones using mirrors.” When customers enter the shop, they see “real images and reflected images [merging] into each other to create a new relationship that is [real and reflected] at the same time. And we expect that something new will emerge from the new relationship.”

The complex relationship between each side of the store means that this pop-up is a space to be truly explored, not casually perused. And when shoppers do, they become part of the composition; their own image is broadcast across the store, giving them center stage in a panoply of alluring illusions.

3.1 Phillip Lim Microcosm

  • Architect: Schemata Architects
  • Client: 3.1 Phillip Lim
  • Where: Tokyo
  • What: 735 square feet on one floor
  • Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request


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