Marc Jacobs’ flagship sets Tokyo aglow

by Danielle Demetriou

Deftly dodging a stream of cars, taxis and bicycles, Stephan Jaklitsch stands in the middle of a narrow road in Tokyo’s Aoyama district.

In less than 24 hours, the architect will “unwrap” the paper covering the glass walls of the building before him to reveal his latest creation — Tokyo’s new Marc Jacobs flagship store. More than just the latest in a list of 275-plus Marc Jacobs stores that New York-based Jaklitsch has designed around the world over the past decade — significantly, this is the first ground-up creation he has ever built for the company.

From his mid-road vantage point, Jaklitsch says: “Tokyo is a constantly evolving chess game. Buildings are always being torn down. It’s a challenging environment. The idea here was to create a building that glows like a lantern in the Tokyo night.”

It is indeed from outside that the new store is at its most striking: the facade of the clean-lined building is succinctly divided into three layers of contrasting materials. The first floor consists of walls of glass, rendering invisible the boundaries between inside and out, with black flamed-granite stones stretching from the curb into the store. In contrast, the second-floor exterior walls are covered with textured layers of broken-edged terracotta tiles, into which a single square window has been cut.

Crowning the store is the third and final layer — smoothly contrasting, perforated aluminum wrapped seamlessly like wallpaper around the building, reflecting the sunlight by day and glowing like a lantern by night.

Describing the “void, rock, lantern” structure, Jaklitsch says: “Before, there was just a small wooden structure and we were limited in height.

“Through a zoning quirk, we were able to add a layer if it remained unoccupied.

“The idea is to create the illusion of a more prominent building, like a monolith.”

Despite its location in Aoyama — an ever-expanding open-air architecture museum — it tries to avoid competing with celebrated neighbors such as the Herzog & De Meuron Prada building in whose shadow it sits.

“We were very sensitive to the surroundings,” he says. “It’s a delicate balance deciding whether a building should be foreground or background. In this instance, we chose to be a bit more understated.”

Its 260-sq. meter interior also showcases the understated elegance now synonymous with Marc Jacobs: from the first-floor accessories’ oval lighting and tropical aquariums (complete with mini lobsters) to the soft carpeting and gold latticework in the menswear basement.

A minimal wooden staircase leads to womenswear on the second floor, where bronze sofas by Christian Liaigre sit beneath a clutch of two-tone teardrop glass lights, created under the direction of Herve Descottes and Kacper Dolatowski.

Now inside the building and flicking through huge coffee-table tomes cataloging his stores, Jaklitsch says: “The first store was a loft-like space in San Francisco. It was created like a living room. It was very comfortable, somewhere people could shop and hang out.

“The spirit of that original idea is consistent in every single store we have built since, even if the materials, palette and lines have changed in different locations.”

Bertrand Stalla-Bourdillon, Marc Jacobs CEO, adds: “We wanted to make something very exclusive and creative here. This new store will give Japanese consumers a frontline place to enjoy a full brand experience.”

Even before the building was unveiled, the store turned heads in architectural circles — as reflected in its Award of Excellence from the American Institute of Architects.

And now it’s open, its place as a newcomer in the ever-growing architectural annals of the Aoyama district is clearly guaranteed.