— Frame Magazine —

Rafael de Cárdenas sculpts a stage for avant-garde brands in a Russian department store

ST PETERSBURG – Before the Russian Revolution, when luxury would fall somewhat out of fashion, even the tsar’s family shopped at Au Pont Rouge. One of the first department stores, the emporium opened in St Petersburg in an 80-storey Art Nouveau building designed by Vladimir Lipskii and Konstantin de Rochefort and erected in 1907. Following a comprehensive renovation in 2015, New York-based Rafael de Cárdenas’s Architecture at Large redesigned the menswear and womenswear departments, which are found on the store’s 1,000-sq-m third floor, where avant-garde brands are located.

De Cárdenas, who used to work in the fashion industry, took cues from both the city and the site: ‘St Petersburg has a beautiful quality of light. We wanted to play with the idea of the city bathed in light for half the year and in none at all for the other half.’ The building itself also inspired a clean but intricate aesthetic, articulated in three distinct ceiling patterns that can be spotted from the kerb: ‘You see the 
feeling of the store from the street.’ Circular clearings mirror the floor plan, where open areas host pop-up shops, events and services such as a tattoo parlour or a barber shop. Three types of graphic and textural anodized-aluminium ceilings surround these openings; one is perforated and contains light fixtures, another is made of green fins, while the third features reflective white gypsum surfaces.

When mechanical systems were added to the building for the first time ever, however, portions of the ceiling dropped significantly. ‘We decided to put the more intimate spaces that didn’t require the grandeur of a higher ceiling – like the fitting rooms – along the spine,’ says De Cárdenas. ‘So we designed the fitting rooms first, and everything else emanated from that.’ Shoppers trying on clothes behind two layers of expanded metal and green glass can see out without being seen themselves. The floor’s display units – which alternate between chunky and slender, heavy and light – can stand alone without garments or frame fashions like abstract expressionist sculptures. ‘There’s an evocativeness about something that feels precarious,’ says De Cárdenas. The colours of the displays’ steel rods – Yves Klein blue, yellow, mint – lend them levity. ‘People come just to see the store. It’s been good for selfies.’ 

Photos Alexey Bogolepov


Frame #112 will soon hit newsstands everywhere. Find the September/October issue in the Frame store.