Boutique Charlotte Chesnais
10, rue d'Alger
169, boulevard Saint-Germain
Architect Anne Holtrop was her choice. She wanted an Experience, something natural yet strange rather than something simply beautiful. Those are her words. And Charlotte Chesnais found the answer to her wishes in the work of this young Dutchman. A much more radical answer. When they first met at her home in Paris, he was holding that answer in his hands. It was a piece of acrylic material, like a block of ice, mysterious and futuristic. The result of his own architectural interrogations. But Anne had never tried making it transparent before. This would be an adventure.
A year later, a large slab, strange and translucent and dense, holding sand from some unknown planet, fills this new timeless space. The store houses two huge monolithic blocks with their surprising ripples and reliefs, their inner glints. Observing them, you catch yourself thinking that a few hours they might have been fluid, flowing magma. As Anne Holtrop explains, “What we find here is another part of my work, which spills into the realm of the imaginary. In the sand-like patterns present in the acrylic material made for Charlotte I see worlds with hills and valleys, rivers and sediments. For me, a piece of work is successful when it allows for several different realities.”
Elements – “ear,” “neck,” “hand,” – in smooth metal. They have a slightly surrealist feel. They were designed by Charlotte herself. A coating of marmornino, intriguingly rugged, completes this new oasis with its sand-yellow tints. This installation carries the eye all the way to the window. “We have kept the original façade but we’ve softened its presence by colouring it in the same way as the interior;” stresses the architect. “The simple façade thus becomes a viewpoint and offers natural light for the interior. Its aim is to communicate what is inside.”
With a supreme material and a handful of straight lines, Anne Holtrop, one of the most talented architects of the new generation, has signed off on a piece of work that can stand beside his other projects, such as the Trail House or Fort Vechten Museum. It has that same closeness to matter, the “material gesture” favoured by this architect, whose art is concentrated in the process of working the material and the unique gestures that it engenders. A gesture that is true. The designer is delighted. “For me, this exceptional creation by Anne Holtrop is a continuation of the conversation between material and form that so fascinates me” enthuses Charlotte Chesnais. “There is this intrinsic ability to evoke distant images, detached from time – it is this upside down world that underpins my work. I hope this first boutique will offer those who come to visit a moment that is truly other.”
A conversation with
A conversation with Anne Holtrop,
Fabrice Paineau: Is it the reading of Robert Macfarlane's book "Underworld" (quoted in one of your interviews) that makes me believe that the elaboration of this first Charlotte’ store comes from another world?
Anne Holtrop: I love in Robert Macfarlane’s book, the sentence: ‘To discover is to reveal by excavation.’ In his book he explores the ‘underworld’ as everything that is below the earths surface. We dig to bury, to hide and also to source our materials to construct with. The sourcing fascinates me, as it is the start of almost everything we make. In the design for the Charlotte’s store I try to keep that relationship with the idea of a natural place. The CNC cut forms in the displays come from scans of loose sand.
FR: Can you tell me about your first meeting with Charlotte Chesnais?
AH: Through Desselle we came in contact and met the first time in her studio in Paris. I brought material of sand casted epoxy with me to start an idea for the display of her jewelry. I was there with my family and our two little children and I had made a visit the next day to her jewelry artisans. There were shared connections on different levels directly between us.
FR: And why did you do & accept this project?
AH: I am an architect and only started recently working in fashion through the work we do for Maison Margiela. With Charlotte, I loved her work from the start and that this would be her first store. As an architect I prioritize to think about the space that surrounds us, more than the objects that are in this space. Therefor I had brought a material with me that I believed could define the space and create a world for her work. I was very happy she liked that idea.
FR: How did you approach Charlotte's world? Did you start from the observation of her creations to be inspired by them or did you take the opposite approach to create a form of contrast?
AH: I approached it from making a world for her pieces. Not to think in display or object, but to think first of all about the space that her pieces inhabit.
FR: Do you often talk about gestures of making (in relation to materials)?
AH: The materiality of an architectural project is often understood as its construction and expression. My own association with material has shifted towards one that focuses on the process of working a material and the unique gestures dictated by a particular material, which I call material gesture. This shift of focus enables me to find form and an expression of architecture as a result of intervening in the process of making – in order to produce work, where essence of it lays within the material, the form and the act of making.
FR: You work mainly on the material, and you are more and more focused on the work process that the material calls for. Was this also the case here in this store?
AH: Yes, absolutely. I proposed to CNC mill really large and thick acrylic sheets as a display and environment for her work. In its combination of artificial material and natural sand forms milled out of it, the project hoovers between these two worlds.
FR: Is this your first project in Paris while living in Bahreïn? What were the parameters of this experience?
AH: I am from Amsterdam originally and within that proximity to Paris, I know the city quite well. In 2018 I started my work for Maison Margiela, but we build the first store for MM in London and currently one at Avenue Montaigne. Charlotte’s store will be completed just before that! So yes it is the first in Paris. I like very much the seclusion of working from Bahrain. It is nice to focus and be removed from too many impulses. Now with the current condition in the world, the seclusion is a bit too much to be honest. But I think we are all struggling with that.
FR: Your approach to matter, even if you claim a "physical approach" of it, has something abstract and even mysterious about it. You even evoke the word "mysterious fragments" in some interviews? What do you think about it?
AH: I like to think my work and process to be about an engagement that is consequential. The physical part is to engage with material, not from an idea, but to have it in my hands and experience all of its conditions. From that engagement the process of working with the material is about altering steps. To take a next step, after a step that already has been taken. How to work it and form it. I prefer to keep that process visible and open ended, with the believe this process doesn’t stop. There is also another part to it; an imaginary one. I read in the sand relief surfaces that we took out of the acrylic material for Charlotte, imaginary worlds with hills and valleys, rivers and sediments. I believe a work is good, when it allows to have several realities.
FR: It seems to me that the « masterpiece » of this boutique will be the central table that will host Charlotte's creations. Can you tell us more about it?
AH: Yes. It is almost too big for the space and pushes to all the boundaries. Everything else we had to find space for in cabinets at the back wall. When you enter the store, you will be drawn to the table with its illuminated ceiling. There is now way around. Within this table space, the world is Charlotte’s.
FR: Are you familiar with fashion ? This seems to be your second experience after Martin Margiela's boutique in London. Besides, fashion is an applied art in the same way as architecture, isn't it? Do you find similarities?
AH: I see myself as an outsider to the fashion world. I don’t understand all the ‘codes’ of it. Which makes it possible to be more naive and come with other different ideas. My main concern is always what space, material and gesture I can propose that links with the designer. So far I have the lucky experience to work with John Galliano and Charlotte Chesnais. For a next project I would be interested to work with textile as a material to define space with. Textile for me is one of the most adaptive and comforting materials to think of in architecture. From the nomadic tent to highly advanced woven fabrics that can transform to changing conditions. A work still to come.
FR: Creating a store also means designing the outside and the inside, and this relationship with the window. Here, what was your approach?
AH: We kept the original facade, and tuned down its presence by coloring it the same as the interior. The understated facade becomes in that way something to look in from and provides natural light conditions for the interior. Her logo and name we cut out of glass and glued it on the window. An amphibious approach that like the facade wants to communicate that what is inside.
FR: This kind of creation, a store, and not a whole building, how did you approach it? And what did you learn from this experience that could eventually be reflected in your future creations?
AH: As an architect I work on a building simultaneously with an inside and outside that relates to the place it is part of. My work with Trail House or Museum Fort Vechten has started with finding ways how this relationship can be made integral. Where there is a constant exchange between inside and outside. With working on the stores I start to love the idea that the interior is a world on its own. And that the idea of place comes from within this interior world.