Setting (typology): A professional showroom covering a complete floor (9,650 square feet) in a manufacturing building. Year of construction: 2008 Client: Janor, a manufacturer and importer-distributor of ready-to-wear women's fashions.

    “In 2007 I was hired to design a small showroom in Toronto. When the client contacted me again for this project, the mandate was based on a simple idea: it should be something that would get everyone in the Montreal fashion industry talking, just as the other project had done in Toronto. The challenge? To create an event, yet remain low-key. If the design drew too much attention to itself, it would show a complete misunderstanding of the very nature of a showroom.”

    A certain degree of modesty was therefore required. The project needed to stay within the idea of a neutral container rather than impose a style that would interfere with the merchandise on display. Of course, anonymity was not an option, either. On the contrary, the showroom needed to make it clear that this is a company on the cutting edge of international trends, in design as well as in fashion. The showroom would need to make the buyer feel privileged, comfortable and cut off from the outside world. In other words, it should put buyers in the mood for buying.

    Taking my lead from haute couture, the elevator opens directly into the reception area. The visitor immediately begins to enjoy touches of luxury as they are understood today: space and calm. A suspended ceiling conceals technical and mechanical equipment, a white noise system neutralizes ambient noise, and white is omnipresent, dematerializing surfaces. The only decorative elements – two antique, monumental urns – stand on fluorescent-green bases. They and the large colour photographs of the silos at the Old Port by Diana Shearwood “humanize” the minimalist approach.

    One might easily think this is an entry hall for a high-end art gallery owner, except that the showroom, seen just behind the reception desk, already signals the purpose of the space. Through a glass partition, in which imperceptible inclusions of white ceramic slightly distort the perspective and generate an iridescent luminosity, the clothing appears as in a dream. A full-height but narrow opening marks access to the corridor that leads to the showroom space, which is laid out in an "L" along windowed walls. The theme of the project is to only reveal small amounts at any given time, a refined strategy of seduction.

    For flexibility’s sake, no wall breaks up the showroom space, whose volume is modulated by mobile presentation screens that serve the needs of different collections and seasons. Here again, partitions of glass with inclusions establish a barrier between the circulation space and the commercial area. Opening up at each end, the partitions make the corridor feel like a friendly pedestrian street lined with chic boutiques. Buyers move freely in and out of the different sections (cocktail dresses, suits, furs, etc.) or circulate inside them, from one collection to the next, for a general impression of fashion trends. 

    The idea behind the decor – or rather, the anti-decor – of the exhibition loft space is one of highlighting through contrast. The absence of points of reference defers to the clothing on display. The ceiling, walls, flooring and furniture merge in a palette of warm whites that capture the originality of Janor’s designs and bring out the true colours of the fabrics. The steel structure for the suspended coat racks is of exemplary discretion, a comfortable pile floor covering dampens the sound of footsteps, and the restricted height of the suspended ceilings creates a sense of intimacy. To keep the view of the city from distracting buyers from the clothes, the walls and windows are hung in veils of linen. The filtered daylight takes on a soft and mellow honey colour.

    Emptying the space while filling it with meaning, sensuality and emotion: in design, modesty is clearly a high-wire act. It requires complete mastery of space, materials, and lighting and, strangely, it demands even more creativity than over-design.

    Project Manager : Marc Bherer / Photographs : André Doyon