Manolo in Moscow

The Manolo Blahnik store is full of fun interpretations

The store is located in Moscow's Tretiakov Plaza.
The store is located in Moscow's Tretiakov Plaza.
The inner panels are made from Corian.
The inner panels are made from Corian.
Shoes are presented in original and creative ways.
Shoes are presented in original and creative ways.

The Manolo Blahnik store at Tretiakov Plaza is full of fun interpretations of Russian motifs.

When Data Nature Associates came to design a new Manolo Blahnik store in Moscow, it was presented with a well-situated site in the Russian capital’s recently-renovated Tretiakov Plaza.

But a location near the mall entrance also meant a site with shop front on three sides – something of a problem for the chic footwear brand, which traditionally favours more private, more protected retail venues.

“Typically, we like Manolo shops to be quite screened. Even if you can see into the shop, we like to separate it from the street or the interior of the shopping centre,” explained Nick Leith-Smith, a partner at Data Nature Associates, Manolo Blahnik’s preferred architecture firm, which has designed stores all over the world for the luxury shoe brand.

In response to the over-exposed nature of the Moscow site, Data Nature Associates opted for a box-within-a-box concept that would create layers of separation between the interior and the exterior. The outer layer consists of a wooden box, created from vertical timber slats that make subtle reference to Russia’s dacha houses.

A homely feel
“Essentially, Manolo shops are inspired by local culture and crafts,” Leith-Smith explained. “Manolo is also very visual so we take on elements that we think are interesting – in this case it was Russian lace and the dacha houses.”

Dacha houses are seasonal or year-round second homes situated on the outskirts of Russian cities. The first Russian dachas emerged during the reign of Peter the Great, and were small country estates given to loyal subjects by the tsar. In archaic Russian, the word dacha translates to mean ‘something given’.

“They are country retreats for the affluent,” Leith-Smith noted. “They are made out of timber and are very decorative, but they feature a rather simplistic decoration that is quite naïve and quite charming. They design these quite palatial buildings on a very small scale.”

However, while Data Nature Associates was keen to incorporate local influences into this interior, it was conscious of the fact that it was working in a market where there is still “some hesitation with the local culture looking at its own design heritage”, Leith-Smith explained.

There is still a tendency in Russia to view western design as the epitome of sophisticated styling. As such, while cultural references are prevalent in the Tretiakov Plaza store, they are quite subtle.

For example, the dacha-inspired timberwork has been given a Manolo twist. Data Nature Associates selected an FSC European oak, which was sand blasted to enhance the grain and create a rough surface. The wood was also ebonised, resulting in a very deep, almost black colouration. The 150mm by 2.7m tall timber boards were then randomly spaced to offer glimpses into the store in some places, and to completely block off the view in others.

Everyday lace
The dark wood of the outer box is in stark contrast to the delicate lace-inspired panelling that makes up the store’s inner box. Built from Dupont Corian, the inner panels create a soft, feminine, almost fairytale effect.
Shaped using CNC laser-cut technology, the panels frame the main door and line the store’s 15m catwalk-style entrance.

“In Russian, the term lace or kruzhevo means ‘to encircle’, a process which initiated the design response to this location. The inside box replicates the intimacy of lace with its panels in DuPont Corian that define the main display area and circulation zone,” he said.

Making the Corian panels work was one of the biggest challenges with this project, Leith-Smith explained. So, while the panels were fabricated in Russia, Data Nature Associates relied heavily on the expertise of local, UK-based Corian agents and fabricators to create prototypes and offer technical advice.

The designers at Data Nature Associates looked at hundreds of lace patterns before coming up with their final choice, which was taken from an old domestic image.

The patterning was chosen because it is not overly intricate or elaborate but is, in fact, rather “everyday”, said Leith Smith.

Meanwhile, the interlayer between the timber and lace boxes creates a series of semi-enclosed, semi-private spaces where customers can try shoes on. “It creates these individual chambers which are quite fun.”

Shoe showcase
A defining characteristic of the Manolo Blahnik spatial brand is the distinct nature of each individual store. By promoting designs that capture the cultural specificity of a given market, Data Nature Associates has created a collection of stores that are united only in their uniqueness.

However, there is one generic element that appears in all Data Nature-designed Manolo stores: the trusty Hoffman shoe stand. The stand is presented in various finishes, but is the one constant in an ever-changing backdrop.

Another defining characteristic of the Manolo Blahnik store is that shoes are never displayed on shelves. Instead, Data Nature Associates has developed a series of creative ways to showcase the shoes on offer. In the Moscow store, shoes are hung from gilded steel straps attached to a top rail. The straps are 5mm to 15mm wide, in lengths of 1.2m, 1.5m and 1.8m. The straps are set over the timber panelling.

“They hang over the front of the timber slats,” explained Leith-Smith. “Because the timber box is the first layer, this becomes the display for the shop front. It also becomes the display internally in the different chambers. The mechanism has been gilded, which is quite fun. It lifts the shoes and gives them a sense of importance.”

The timber Hoffman stands have also been gilded, and have been set at varying heights, ranging from a minimum of 40cm to a maximum of 1.3m.

These are complemented by furniture pieces that build on the dacha theme.

“The furniture is also quite fun. We went for this idea of the dacha and the country-house style. We had these low ottomans that were covered in a very long-haired fabric. They have a country feel to them and are set on quite delicate legs,” said Leith Smith.

It is this inherent sense of humour, playfulness and drama that defines the Moscow store, and all other Manolo stores designed by Data Nature Associates. This, said Leith-Smith, is in keeping with the brand, and man, that they are designing for.

“The Manolo spatial brand is characterised by the creation of a specific, local character, with an installation that stands out with its witty presence,” he pointed out.

“This is very much in keeping with Manolo’s personality and how he designs. He juxtaposes elements and techniques – whether it be fashion, architecture or craft – and puts things together that don’t normally go together. And he does it in a way that it is unique, eye-opening and surprising.”

Fast Facts
Project: Manolo Blahnik, Moscow
Location: Tretiakov Plaza, Nikolsaya Street, near Red Square
Size: 75m2
Designed by: Data Nature Associates, an architecture and design firm established in 2000 by Nick Leith-Smith and Kristina Hulsebus Blahnik, Manolo Blahnik’s niece.

Data Nature Associates is Manolo Blahnik’s official architecture and design firm and has developed a series of shops around the world for the luxury shoeware brand. This was the company’s first project in Russia and is currently Manolo Blahnik’s only stand alone store in Moscow.

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