In the world of retail, there is a tendency towards sameness, a familiarity designed to lull shoppers into a complacent state in which they might begin to feel it’s okay to spend a lot of money. A Zara, anywhere in the world, is immediately identifiable by its gold-toned lighting and rows of shoes lined up haphazardly underneath the clothes; a Marni boutique leaves its mark with swooping stainless-steel rails and elliptical cutouts in the ceilings. As a brand, Marc Jacobs has never been about uniformity, though — this is a fashion designer, after all, who’s gone from the most infamous collection of grunge in history to the luxurious heights of Louis Vuitton — so why should his stores? “There are certain iconic elements that are repeated,” admits Stephan Jaklitsch, the New York–based architect who’s been responsible for Jacobs’s bricks-and-mortar for more than 10 years, “but in general, each store relates to its own specific building type, to the city’s specific urban condition, and to the architecture of the individual space. Although they’re identifiably connected, every one of them has a particular feel.”
All of which makes sense considering the odd spots Jaklitsch has had to design around since joining forces with the brand in 1999, just a year after he struck out on his own after having worked for firms like Michael Graves post–architecture school. He was hired partly on the strength of his residential renovation for Jacobs’s business partner Robert Duffy, and the San Francisco Marc by Marc Jacobs flagship was the first he designed for the pair. In the beginning, Jaklitsch says, he was taking cues from the brand’s first store, located in an old garage on New York’s Mercer Street. “It wasn’t really designed,” he says. “It was bare walls, painted white, a floor that was painted black, and industrial rolling racks. It was extremely simple, down to earth, and chic as a result of all that. The San Francisco store took the level of luxury up a bit.” Since then, he’s worked with an abandoned warehouse in Savannah, Georgia, a 17th-century trio of spaces in Milan, and seven bays of the Palais de Royale in Paris, where he ended up consulting with the Ministry of Culture in order to create a new façade. “The problem was how to respect the original architecture without being kitsch copy of it,” Jaklitsch says.
Like most architects, problems are something Jaklitsch thrives on; they’re part of what keeps him creatively inspired when he is, at the end of the day, working with the same brand year in and year out. (Other notable projects include a series of modernist residences in Manhattan and beyond, as well as new shops for the Moscot brand of eyeglasses.) His other primary sources of inspiration are travel, which he does a great deal of for the Marc Jacobs stores, and the eight things that follow.
Harry Allen is a happening guy. From his design studio in New York’s East Village, he makes ironic banana bowls and pig banks for Areaware and is one of only three American designers working with the hip Italian furniture brand Skitsch, along with Jason Miller and Todd Bracher. His new Bang perfume bottle is all over the ad pages of major fashion magazines, strategically positioned atop a nude Marc Jacobs, and the skateboarding store Supreme owes its interiors to him. Allen is so evergreen, in fact, that it’s easy to forget the most basic fact of his biography: He’s been doing this for nearly 20 years. “Everyone treats me like I’m some kid, but I’ve been around for a long time,” he says. “When I started in 1993, there was no Moss, no Wallpaper. Philippe Starck was king, and everything was shaped like a horn. I looked at Europe and thought: That’s what I want to be, I want to be like Starck. I want to be Starck.” But while he did follow that model when he set up his own design studio in 1993 — as opposed to joining a corporation like most of his American peers were doing at the time — part of the reason Allen’s presence in the design world always feels so fresh is that unlike Starck, he's constantly reinvented himself along the way.
In some ways, Marc Jacobs is a bit like Oprah. With a flick of his influential magic wand, Posh Spice can suddenly be considered cool, Bleecker Street can become the place you simply must open your New York shop, and a Madrid-based, husband-and-wife graphic-design duo can go from virtual unknowns to the toast of magazines and blogs around the world. That’s what happened two years ago to Julia Vergara and Javier G. Bayo, co-principals of the print and pattern design shop SuTurno, whose Bolsaco tote — a simple canvas bag made from vintage stock found in an old warehouse in Spain — was spied by two of Jacobs’ buyers at the Madrid shop Peseta. “It was the first product we ever made with the SuTurno label on it, and it actually became our most hyped design to date,” says Bayo. The two were asked to produce a limited edition of bags for the Marc by Marc Jacobs stores in the States, and they promptly sold out within a few days.
It’s hard to put a finger on just how the New York store Kiosk — which peddles quirky housewares from around the world, one country at a time — vaulted from cherished destination of a few to the kind of place Jasper Morrison, London's best-known everyday-object apologist, feels obliged to check out when he’s rolling through town. But while the 4-year-old Soho shop has begun to shed its air of secrecy, it has never lost its charm. Climbing a set of graffiti-covered stairs to its second-floor entrance, you never know what you’re going to find at the top.