Architect Peter Marino reflects on his longtime collaboration with the French fashion house.
“Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.” – Coco Chanel
He’s conjured luxurious boutiques around the globe for Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, and others, but if architect and interior designer Peter Marino maintains a special relationship with any status brand, it’s undeniably CHANEL.
For more than two decades Marino has partnered with the legendary French house to create retail environments that are equal parts chic and forward-thinking, provide a beautiful backdrop for CHANEL merchandise, and employ elements that honor the DNA of the brand.
Marino is celebrating this longtime collaboration with a just-released book, ”Peter Marino: The Architecture of Chanel” (published by Phaidon), which explores 16 notable boutiques that reflect both his architectural and interior-design visions—from a location on Chicago’s Oak Street and a recently debuted store in Brookfield Properties’ Miami’s Design District to his modernist takes in Hong Kong, Istanbul, and Seoul.
In addition to discussing his process and how he invents—in at least one instance quite literally—new ways to celebrate the aesthetic of CHANEL through architecture, Marino also reveals how he worked with his friend and longtime colleague, CHANEL creative director Karl Lagerfeld, who passed away in 2019. As he relates in his new book, “Karl and I had a deal: I’m so not talking about that skirt, and you’re so not talking about this chair.”
Marino took a few moments to discuss the book, how he approaches each project, and the CHANEL boutique design he ranks high among his favorites.
Why was now the right time to release a book about your work with CHANEL?
Originally, I was going to call the book Chanel No. 12, because I’ve done 12 freestanding boutiques with them, amid 400 design projects over the years, and I wanted to call attention to the fact that this wonderful brand had given me 12 architectural commissions. You can’t name another brand that has done that sort of thing: 12 buildings over 20 years with the same architect. There’s an incredible closeness to that, and ultimately, I wanted to commemorate it, because it means a lot to me.
How do you approach the design of each CHANEL boutique, so it feels unique while still honoring the brand?
I like to say that I’m Gemini rising—I have two sides. One side is the architect who’s always thinking about how to create an exterior that feels modern and compelling, while the other side is pure decoration. Also, I went to Cornell, a school that’s known for its culinary studies, so often I think like a chef: I gather many samples as the ingredients, and I start mixing everything together to see what works. Whether it’s many different takes on black and white or elements related to tweeds, I can bring together 50 samples before I start making decisions.
Commissioned art that connects to the codes of CHANEL is key to your interior design work. Tell us a little bit about that.
We have a lot of fun working with incredible artists all over the globe to create these pieces. For CHANEL on 57th Street [in New York City], the 60-foot pearl necklace is by Jean-Michel Othoniel, who just concluded his own marvelous show at the Petit Palais in Paris. He’s going to speak at my art foundation in August. [In June 2021, Marino opened an art foundation in Southampton, New York, to create public access to his considerable art collection, which includes works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, and Eugène Delacroix.]
How do we see that approach in your latest project, the boutique in Miami Design District, which opened in December during Art Basel?
In addition to works by Chris Succo and Vera Lutter, I love the three pieces we commissioned from [Berlin-based artist] Gregor Hildebrandt; they’re positioned against a towering staircase and are all made from film tapes that he’s applied to canvas. Mademoiselle Chanel loved cinema and had her own history with cinema in the 1930s, and these pieces honor that.
The Miami Design District boutique is also an example of a CHANEL project that combined both architecture and interior design for you.
Those [projects] really are my favorite, to conceptualize both the building and the interior. Before I started, I walked around Miami Design District to see how we could create something that truly felt unique to the neighborhood. CHANEL was the last brand to join this selection of stores, and I thought, I’m going to do a white cube: the same height, the same width, same everything, on all sides, with a few black glass windows. And then I’m going to put all the drama on the inside. We’re the last boutique to arrive, and I think it’s the cleanest and the simplest, and perhaps the one people can relate to the most.
What are the upcoming projects that excite you the most?
I’ve been working on CHANEL’s Rodeo Drive boutique, which will open in the latter half of 2022 and will be just spectacular. And then there’s La Pausa, the villa she [Coco Chanel] built for herself and the Duke of Westminster in the 1930s, which I never knew existed. It’s all white stucco with three simple arches—a nod to her convent upbringing—located in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, 20 minutes to the north of Monaco. CHANEL has given me La Pausa to rebuild and restore, and I’m incredibly excited about that.
Among your many collaborations with CHANEL, do you have a favorite?
The two CHANEL towers in Tokyo are off the effing charts, in terms of total identity of a brand and being able to do things that had never been done before. We invented a new type of glass for those buildings; we worked with engineers in Austria, where they craft crystals partly because the water is so clear. I’ve decided I want that on my tombstone: “He invented a new type of glass.” But to get a brand that’s willing to partner with you to achieve that, it feels incredibly good.
It also conveys an incredible amount of trust.
Because it just doesn’t happen anywhere. CHANEL gave it to Karl, and they’ve given it to me.
Nine CHANEL stores are located within the Brookfield Properties portfolio, including Iconic Collection destinatons:
Ala Moana Center | Honolulu, HI
Miami Design District | Miami, FL
Tysons Galleria | McLean, VA