Design

ULTRA MARINO

New York architect Peter Marino has applied his artful brilliance to dazzling effect in luxury stores the world over. I profiled the designer for the new issue of Belle magazine.

Chanel, Sydney.
Louis Vuitton Maison, Munich.

That the close relationship between art and fashion is increasingly reflected in the built environment is no surprise, given that luxury fashion brands regularly collaborate with award-winning architects to create unique retail spaces to display their goods. New York-based architect and designer Peter Marino has been so complicit in the convergence of innovative high-end design and the retail industry that his extensive body of work, which includes multiple projects for Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Chanel, represents a great shift in architectural hierarchy.

It's a big call to make for someone who essentially designs shops, but in the past few decades luxury retail stores have become secular temples to good design and consumerism, places of worship for fashion's followers and must-see sites for tourists. This is partly thanks to fashion companies' deep pockets that allow them the fiscal freedom to make controversial design statements that will become important creative capital for their brands. Retail forms less than half of Peter's architectural business, which employs well over 150 people, but it's certainly what he has become known for since redesigning department store Barneys in 1985. That and his Village People leather get-up and Mohican hairdo.

Peter has said before that his rise to the top of his game was not easy. He received a scholarship to study architecture at Cornell University, New York, and later worked for more than a decade at prestigious architecture firms, where he met his wife, costume designer Jane Trapnell. But he said he felt different to his classmates. "I entered architecture after years of painting, sculpture and art history, so I didn't come at it from an engineering point of view," he told London newspaper The Telegraph. "I was very lucky to make it through and become a licensed architect because the educational system is skewed to eliminate people like me."

And, unlike his classmates, he was happy to take jobs such as fashion boutiques - not seen as the top rung of the design ladder. What he did at Barneys, his first major contract, was revolutionary - creating individual boutiques for the brands it carried. Peter's design played into the global branding expansion underway in the fashion business and made him a name with individual brands for later work.

The standalone boutiques of Louis Vuitton are what Peter is best known for, due in part to the brand's sheer prestige and visibility in the global market. His brilliance in designing for the luxury label is his incorporation of its innovative multimedia branding operations that can include in-store video displays and animation, temporary art installations and semi-permanent exhibitions. For his recent redesign of the Chanel boutique on Sydney's Castlereagh Street, he opted almost exclusively for black, white and glass, evoking the brand's famed perfume bottles, while furniture is covered in luxurious tweed, like its iconic boucle jackets.

Peter has become known for his ability to hone in on a brand's history and identity - important when designing for heritage houses - and communicate this in a unique way. Or, as he described it in the The Telegraph: "Quality, functionality, a gorgeous sense of light and what I call a mixed rich cultural baggage."

For more, pick up the latest issue of Belle, on sale now.