Dolce & Gabbana, Japan

Pics: Studio Curiosity

The Dolce & Gabbana flagship store in Aoyama, Tokyo, invites visitors to engage in an innovative shopping experience, channelling the sun of Sicily, where the Italian designers are originally from, into the Japanese lifestyle and shopping vibe.

Designed by Gwenael Nicolas of Studio Curiosity, with lighting design from Barbara Balestreri Lighting Design (BBLD), the store blurs the lines between retail establishment and fashion show, conceiving the space as a stage in which customers become the actors and the display “would unfold a creative narrative, a retail storytelling”.

The project is not the first time that BBLD and Studio Curiosity have worked together – the Italian lighting designers have worked with the architects on a number of projects, including Fendi’s flagship store in Ginza, Tokyo, where they “merged ancient Roman architecture into the Japanese metropolis lightscape”, and the Sloane Street Dolce & Gabbana location in London, in which Balestreri and her team created a “fluid lightecture”.

For the Aoyama location, Dolce & Gabbana had a very simple brief for the designers: “to create something that would surprise”. Barbara Balestreri, Director of BBLD, explained: “Such a challenge triggered ‘lateral thinking’ with Studio Curiosity, and we worked on a design that would be able to also enhance the shopping experience.

“The result is a dynamic lightecture of sharp lights and shadows which frames the products like they were on stage, and embraces customers with an inspirational display.”

The term “lightecture” is one coined by Balestreri, intended to express BBLD’s way of working, and its architectural approach to light. “Lightecture implies a wider meaning than lighting design, which is too often linked to products, interiors and technical features,” she explained. “It includes the creative process sprung from an understanding of the cultural, social and geographical contest.

“You wouldn’t design a building detached from its urban environment, we believe that crafting lights for a showroom, a museum or a public space should require the very same care.”

Such care and attention has seen BBLD work with a large number of high-end, designer retail establishments, from Dolce & Gabbana to Jimmy Choo, Armani, Moncler and more. “Each brand is like a planet with its own history, narrative and values,” Balestreri said. “And each retail space must meet the vibe of its own city.

“Our job is to translate these inputs into light. But the focus must always be on the final experience of the customers. Creating emotions and teasing their curiosity is our goal.”

In Tokyo, BBLD looked to social media for inspiration for the new Dolce & Gabbana store. “The project takes inspiration from how millennials choose their look while surfing on social media,” Balestreri continued. “On Instagram, the eye scrolls through never ending pictures slotted into grids to find catchy inspirations.

“In the Aoyama showroom, objects are constantly appearing and disappearing, creating a choreography of light. With this design solution, we aimed to plunge customers into an immersive, non-aggressive and non-digital version of the social media experience.”

It is here that BBLD sought to create a more theatrical lighting scheme, framing the products as if they were on a stage. Through cross-pollinating contrasts, the retail environment embraces the dramatic world of theatre, as traditional retail lighting solutions were implemented by using stage projectors.

“Light is a composite matter,” said Balestreri. “When tailoring lights on a volume or surface there are so many variables that most often the wanted effect must be achieved only, but combining different technologies, creating subtle contrasts or borrowing inspirations from different worlds.

“Bringing theatre dynamic lighting design was the perfect solution to combine movement with the statuesque poses of the mannequins and items on display.”

Professional ellipsoidal LED spotlights from Silver Star and ETC with interchangeable heads were positioned across the flagship store as if it were a stage. Thanks to framing shutters, the whole system proved to be highly flexible and precise in defining the sharp geometries required by the main concept.

Balestreri tested disposition of the projectors with physical mock-ups on different scales in order to tailor in the slightest detail light interactions and effects on products.

The dynamism of the retail space was achieved by orchestrating units that could be DMX-controlled independently. In this way it was possible to compose light sequences by alternatively switching on and off the projectors and tuning the whole system with music.

Jewels and watches are nested in bespoke, golden-framed niches hosting scenographic miniature interiors, each one lit by miniature theatre projectors hidden within the alcoves.

Outside, street windows catch the eye with floor to ceiling niches dressed in white marble, and a metal profile nested in the wall hosts the lighting system. Elsewhere, small directional and custom-designed projectors focus on the products, while couples of floor-to-ceiling linear light sources from DN Lighting and Moriyama enhance the rhythm of the building, echoing the dynamic contrasts inside the store.

In the store’s interior design, Studio Curiosity played with black and gold colours – an extremely elegant combination close to Dolce & Gabbana’s style. These gold elements, surfaces and stairs refer to the Sicilian sun, bringing an Italian flair to the Japanese retail market.

“Our work as BBLD was to shape the light in order to highlight the chromatic balance of the spaces,” continued Balestreri. “At the same time, this added a Japanese-style, tech-oriented touch.”

BBLD has been involved in the project since its inception, meaning that they could team up with Studio Curiosity to develop the main concept from the beginning, thus avoiding any technical difficulties that could have arisen had they joined the project at a later stage. “The design process evolved smoothly,” Balestreri said. “The teamwork was extremely inspirational.”

“Working on a project is always an opportunity to experiment new ideas. Being involved since the beginning is always a great chance to find and create tailored solutions that fit organically into the project.”

The end result is a stunning retail establishment firmly in keeping with the designer brand’s luxury aesthetic, and definitely living up to Dolce & Gabbana’s wish for a “surprise”.