The art of parties and beyond

By Rebecca Voight...

Nov. 13: Yohji Yamamoto took the spotlight this evening at the launch of his new Paris flagship, which glowed like a crème chantilly birthday cake, on a street he loves, rue Cambon. This is no ordinary street. It's been Mademoiselle's—as in Coco Chanel's—headquarters since day one and it's also the location of the infamous back entrance to the Ritz, the start of a certain late-night car chase that ended badly. For years Yamamoto has been fanatically attracted to this elegant, slightly haunted "rue Mademoiselle couture," as he calls it, waiting in typically long-suffering Japanese fashion to plant his white cube three-level flagship here. Did he know that next week marks the 125th anniversary of Gabrielle Chanel's birth? He must have. But suave and seductive as ever, he didn't breathe a word about it.

Yohji Yamamoto click to enlarge  

"My choice was the Right Bank, just steps from the Tuileries,” Yamamoto told me. “Rue Cambon is synonymous with Chanel and couture. This is my idea of luxury shopping. It starts with the neo-classic molding on the store's façade. That totally seduced me. Meeting the architect Sophie Hicks and discovering our joint obsession for the white cube has been the guiding light for this store. I like to think we found a classic Parisian salon and tucked a little something Japanese into it.”  

As Yamamoto still owns and designs for his namesake company, the launch was something of a gathering of the clan, the last of Paris's style Mohicans. Azzedine Alaïa showed up in his usual role as the beard of Corso Como's Carla Sozzani, sister of Franca, the editor and goddess of Vogue Italia. Then there was Jean Touitou, who runs and designs for his brand A.P.C. with a music studio on the side and a new Paris pre-school called A.P.E. (Atelier de la Petit Enfance). Touitou was there because of Irene Silvagni, Yamamoto's longtime image director, now a consultant for him, as well as A.P.C. "She has a common-sense quality and she is Trotsky's great-grandniece, which means something to me," he explained. Touitou is set to open a shop on Paris's rue Royale next June. He will soon launch a set of essential oils which he admits "will be pricey," and he's doing a co-branded collection with Liberty of London. He's also doing a book with Lisa Eisner’s Greybull Press called "Roadrunner," about early skateboarders. And even though "no one reads anymore," he says, he's launching his choice of classic authors from the prestigious stable of Editions de Minuit.

Yohji Yamamoto, Adrian JoffeAzzedine Alaia, Carla Sozzani
Yohji Yamamoto & Adrian JoffeAzzedine Alaïa & Carla Sozzani
  Adrian Joffe, president of Comme des Garçons, was in attendance as well. He was celebrating the sales figures of CDG for H&M, launched in 200 H&M stores just this morning. I had changed into a polka-dot cardigan and white ruffled blouse I managed to snag at H&M this morning and this was the first time Joffe has ever smiled at me like that. It was almost love.  

Maria Luisa Poumaillou of the eponymous store featuring a who's who and who's next of style, relocated last summer from rue Cambon to a more intimate spot around the corner on rue du Mont Thabor, now shaping up as Paris's most interesting backstreet shopping drag. With husband and daughter in tow, Poumaillou was mesmerized by the giant V.I.P. fitting rooms and chill-out area (home to a future jewelry department) with furoshiki cloth-covered couches. "I've carried Yohji so many times," said Poumaillou, "but now he's a neighbor so I guess I don't need to any more. Same goes for Costume National across the street."  

Yamamoto and Sophie Hicks spent two years on the store. That's not because they’re slow in the head; it's more a French red-tape thing. And it must be said that Hicks did blast through two buildings to make one big, airy white cube. Hicks is English and a breath of fresh air. She still looks like a proper school boy and hasn't changed from the days she walked the runway for Azzedine Alaïa. Beginning as an assistant for Grace Coddington, she styled for Vogue and eventually went to work for Alaïa before turning her back on fashion to become an architect, now with her own firm.

Yohji Yamamoto"This shop was trickier to do than it looks," Hicks admitted. "Simple and relaxed is not easy to design." I could not coerce Sophie to reveal what her next project is, but she did tell me what made her leave fashion behind: "I was headed for New York on a plane with Azzedine to photograph Madonna, who chucked in midair, so we had to find a replacement as soon as we hit the ground. Azzedine speaks no English and that includes ordering breakfast so I was the trip translator. I remember our first morning in New York. I was asleep in the next room. Azzedine needs very little sleep and I awoke to scratching sounds at my door: 'Sophie, est-tu reveillé?' I always knew I wanted to be an architect. I'd redesigned my bedroom throughout childhood. Right then I made up my mind to switch."  

The shop is refreshingly lo-fi. There's not a glimpse of the future—or the past. Concrete floors are white-washed without being overtly industrial and floor-to-ceiling windows are whited-out or covered with kite-like sculptures. On the ground floor, a row of mannequins greets customers like a gallery show, with women's upstairs and men's in the basement. But the surprise in store is a collection for children, available only here for now. Why would this quiet, bearded Japanese man with a thing for Gabrielle Chanel go for a kids' line after all these years? Enter Oshi Yamamoto, who's ten. The sleek, severe and oddly heartbreaking selection for children is inspired by him. "Oh yes," said Yamamoto's publicist Coralie Gauthier, "Oshi comes to the shows in leather pants made by his dad and custom-made Boraslino fedoras." So watch out for a junior yakuza type at a Yohji store near you. And if you're in Paris in December, make a beeline for Yamamoto's headquarters on rue de Turbigo in Les Halles, which will host the first pop-up shop from that other chip off the old block, daughter and designer Limi Feu.



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