Dolce & Gabbana Tokyo

For the Italian fashion house’s Aoyama boutique, the Japanese design firm Curiosity combines a refined palette with creative lighting. Photography by Satoshi Shigeta.

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When commissioned to design a new Dolce & Gabbana store in the vibrant Aoyama district of Tokyo, French designer Gwenael Nicolas, president of the Tokyo-based multidisciplinary design firm Curiosity, opted to view the realm of online retail as an opportunity and a source of inspiration rather than a challenge. The result? His radical take on a high-end apparel boutique turns the traditional retail paradigm on its head.

“The design reflects my ambition to translate the experience of online shopping into a physical environment,” says Nicolas. “Everybody in the fashion industry is looking to create online experiences with websites that are exciting, showing products that pop up in ways that guide the customer through a maze of images. I wanted to create a similar experience in a real retail space, where products appear and disappear in a carefully controlled choreography.”

Given these novel aspirations, the designer was fortunate to have received carte blanche from his client. Nicolas says, “The brief from Domenico Dolce was ‘Surprise me!’”

Nicolas achieved his aims in the two-story 5,620-square-foot space by working with light to bring theatricality into the design. Intent on staying true to co-founder Dolce’s Sicilian roots, Nicolas metaphorically aligned his focus on illumination with daylight. “The sun [in Sicily] is very strong and creates a black-and-white graphical cityscape,” he says. In maximizing natural light, he was able to craft a backdrop that merges the future of Dolce & Gabbana with its past.

Altering perceptions
To establish a dramatic setting of strong contrasts, Nicolas painted the ceiling, walls, and display plinths matte black. Ebony-toned ceramic tiles cover the floors. Ceilings and ductwork are exposed, primarily to allow for the greatest height advantage on both floors (the ceiling height of the lower level is approximately 12 feet and the upper level is about 10. feet).

Vertical and horizontal display surfaces are clad in slabs of pale Arabescato Carrara marble. Set against this chiaroscuro framework, a staircase with brass railings and brass-paneled walls adds a glittering note. The stair connects the first floor—where shoes and casual apparel for both men and women are found—to the second level, where jewelry is exhibited in a gold-painted alcove grounded with a golden silk rug.

Museum-quality lighting adds to the special nature of the interior and the products within. A computer-animated system activates about 400 spotlights, which randomly highlight display areas with precisely defined, ever-changing pools of light, bringing the atmosphere to life. As Nicolas explains, “I wanted to trigger an emotional response in the viewer with contrasts and continuous motion, to bring the customer into a totally different state of mind.”

The designer’s creative lighting concepts also allowed him to push the boundaries of built retail environments into uncharted turf. “It is not about decoration but about finding new fundamentals, surprising ourselves, and sharing our discoveries with the customer,” says Nicolas. “The challenge is to create ideas that respect past history and philosophy yet bring us forward into new territories.”


who Interior designer: Gwenael Nicolas of Curiosity. Lighting: Barbara Balestreri Lighting Design.
what Paint: matte black and gold. Flooring: black ceramic tiles; silk rugs. Display surfaces: Arabescato Carrara marble. Staircase: brass-paneled walls and brass railings. Lighting: computer-animated spotlights. Signage: Daikan.

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