Pict0025.jpg (131698 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Chelsea

Comme des Garcons




520 West 22nd St  






brick, aluminum








Comme des Garcons: Light at the End of a Chelsea Tunnel

By Suzy Menkes    International Herald Tribune

NEW YORK - Outside, on a Chelsea street, the walls are grimy brick and a faded sign for auto repairs reads ''Heavenly Body Works.''

But follow the shiny aluminum tunnel pierced in the wall, and you find yourself in a retail wonderland - 5,000 square feet (465 square meters) of dazzling white space, divided into undulating modules, where the clothes shelter in a modernistic labyrinth.

Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons has pioneered the first shopping outpost in Chelsea, following the run-down industrial area's recent influx of art galleries.

On West 26th Street, on the Hudson River side, the new Comme des Garcons store, which opened last week, is a monument to one designer's uncompromising vision. ''It's the symbolization of Rei's pioneering spirit,'' says Adrian Joffe, Kawakubo's husband and partner. ''Most people think we're crazy - it's the ends of the earth. But we hope it will become a destination for shoppers.''

For its design concept alone, the store would be a magnet for the discerning.

The aluminum tunnel, made in a shipyard in Cornwall, in England, is hammered and fretted into textures that refract the light. Inside, the all-white surfaces belie the variety of finishes, from the hard, smooth sales counter in white-enameled steel, to the wall of corrugated soundproof foam, behind a five-meter stainless-steel perfume bar.

For a designer once known for any color as long as it was black, Comme's clothes are now varied: men's jackets encrusted with interior frills; fresh striped shirts; jewel-colored velvets, and the metallic inserts on designs by Junya Watanabe, a Kawakubo protégé.

Original products include knits in Escorial, a yarn from New Zealand sheep whose curly coats have supposedly produced the ''new cashmere.''

The store's location is as important as its innovative design and merchandise.

Joffe points out that when Comme opened downtown on Wooster Street 14 years ago, SoHo was still an artists' colony of bohemian lofts, bistros and a smattering of galleries. By the time Comme moved out to make way for Prada last year, the area was designer central, with everyone from Louis Vuitton to the Gap in residence.

Chelsea has a long way to go before it becomes the new fashion mecca, but Comme's clients are the folk who cruise or own the newly installed art galleries.

''We wanted to move because it is uncharted territory,'' says Joffe. ''It is an expression of our Gypsy spirit.''