L'Officiel Art

Peter Marino Is the Artist's Architect for a Reason

His long-standing relationship with the house of Chanel proves that the way to push the creative needle forward is through seeking a modernity rooted in a deep history.
Reading time 6 minutes

Peter Marino, the mastermind behind Chanel's storefronts in Paris and New York, explains how he evoked Coco Chanel while designing. He considers her in all aspects of the process, when he chooses an artist to feature he states, "I'd like to imagine that, if she were alive today, she'd go pick these people. And that's how we do it." Marino also watched as the late Karl Lagerfeld pushed the boundaries with the brand and mimicked that in the stores. Step into the mind of Peter Marino while also stepping into two of the most iconic high fashion stores. 



You've had a longstanding relationship with Chanel for 30 years or so. How do you continue to bring newness to a brand that is so historically aware?

Look at Karl. Don’t you think he’s always pushing it and keeping it interesting? I look at his shows, his cues, and his feelings. The brand has to always feel the same but always feel new. Every time I do a building, it has to feel like that it's always been there and that it will stay there for the next twenty years. My particular strength is that I'm not Mr. Trendy. Luckily working for Chanel is easier than many of the other brands because Coco Chanel herself was an innovator.


Is working on a project with such an iconic and loyal address, like the Paris boutique, intimidating at all?

No. I'm too old for that, but maybe up to 20 years ago, I was a little bit shell-shocked. I have a lot of confidence now, and I've been doing it for a long time. It's exciting because, like any artist, I love the idea that brands want newness and they want reflections of the time in which we live.


Can we talk a little bit about the Paris boutique on Rue Cambon?

It is four buildings combined. We reinvigorated the original stonework. You have to wash it. It's all dirty and a lot of it had to be replaced. One of the buildings is from the 18th century– the one with the stairs. One of them is from the 19th Century, and the two on the side were indeterminate. The structure of the staircase was preserved because it was from the 18th Century. So, the sub-structure, oddly enough, was preserved. I mean, it has very little meaning to any of us in today's world. The stone on top was cracked and sliding down and dangerous. All the stairs are also new but it's so funny with the preservationists. Underneath the stone, there are some original beams. The stairs are just an interpretation of the classic couture stay. And what we did is we abbreviated that. You can't just copy it because that’s not what I do, so I just put various mirrors in the corners of the stairs, which came out really well.


Why did you decide to place mirrors in the corners?

I never like to just copy something old. I love to reinterpret, which is what Karl always does. You know you look at the archives and you re-interpret it. And it does feel fresher. It's not as glamorous as her original 1930’s stairs, but I didn't want it to be. Do you think our times are as glamorous as the ‘30s? They're not. They're really not. So, you've got to kind of temper it to the times and just use elements.


And what about some of the artists? The art that's selected to live within these boutiques are so important, like that of Paolo Pivi.

I try to enhance the value of the brand by adding art that relates to it. Coco Chanel looked for innovative thoughts and processes. So, I try to tackle that with my designs. I'd like to imagine that, if she were alive today, she'd go pick these people. And that's how we do it. Chanel is the last of the grand dames that only sells woman's clothes. There is no other brand. Everybody else sells men's products. I like to enhance these spaces with female artists. I think we have five women artists there, and I make a very active effort because I like the woman's point of view.



The New York flagship at 57th Street is breathtaking—you’re immediately captured by the exterior.

It was a three-level shop and now it's five. If you look at the façade, it's inspired by the Chanel perfume box. Can you imagine something you designed in 1927 that still looks modern today? How many things can you say that about? So I always play with the perfume box when I'm doing facades, and with this one, I started doing what I call a multi-layer one. It’s a multi-grid exterior. There are three different levels of metal grids that go back and shade it. I find it complex and interesting.


I want to know about the chandeliers within the space.

I work with a company called Goosens. In the 1970s, they were a big custom jewelry house. Now, they only work for Chanel. They are enormously creative and I love working with them on light fixtures. Mademoiselle Chanel loved rock crystals. The gold filigree is very baroque but also puts Chanel in a very different class.


When you walk inside, you’re immediately confronted by the incredible 60-foot structure.

It’s by Jean-Michel Othoniel, and it’s just the best thing in the world. It’s such an engineering challenge and he's a genius. I mean, you know they're solid glass beams? It's just insane, and it weighs tons. They had to go to Germany to have the steel cables and then to Switzerland where they had it made, and then they disassembled it and shipped the whole thing to America. This is a two and a half year project with 17 people doing it. This is not just, "Oh I went into a gallery and I picked out some artwork." I also really like the idea that, somehow, Mademoiselle Chanel was not a smiley kind of dame. But maybe, just made, I’d get a smirk out of her seeing my interpretation of taking her pearls and going bonkers.

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