Founded by Deirdre Quinn, Shun Yen Siu, and Ida Siu, Lafayette 148 launched in 1996 as a fashion line of pared-back silhouettes inspired by the artistic spirit of the SoHo neighborhood it was headquartered in. Though it relocated to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2018, the brand’s DNA remained rooted in its spiritual home. With the debut of a new flagship on Greene Street, Lafayette 148 returns to its roots.
With creative director Emily Smith and New York–based architect William Sofield at the helm, the store reflects the sublime simplicity and elemental designs of the label’s collections. Balancing brutish industrial bones with soothing earthy hues, plush furniture, and an inventory philosophy of “less is more,” Sofield’s team created a calm refuge in the city’s frenetic shopping district.
“I see the new Greene Street flagship as a holistic expression of Lafayette 148’s unique take on femininity, where style is imbued with confidence, purpose with romanticism, heritage with modernity,” Smith says. “Studio Sofield designed it with the modern woman in mind, for whom flawless quality, luxurious and well-considered materials, and a dynamic New York sensibility are of equal importance.”
Sofield, who has designed gleaming showrooms for fashion’s most high-profile names such as Gucci, Tom Ford, and Yves Saint Laurent, adds: “Quietly elegant, approachable, and beautifully made, I was tasked to create the architectural equivalent of the clothing,” he says. “It was important to stay true to the house’s SoHo roots. In doing so, I paid nostalgia forward, creating a shop that is at once a gallery and a residential loft.”
Below, Sofield gives us a closer look at the project.
Project description: The brand’s signature emphasis on materiality and construction lends an effortless femininity to the store environment, modernizing the industrial foundations and creating a natural dialogue between the architecture and the collections. I wanted to create a sense of tranquility and decompression that reflects the clothing, which is very understated, subtle, and beautifully crafted. Balancing the more masculine industrial elements—original columns, exposed brick—while creating something feminine.
We opened up the store’s historic facade and antique doors to let the outside in. The foyer-like transitional space is called “the refuge zone” because it marks the transition from the bustle of SoHo into the serenity of the store. I utilized sculptural objects such as the moveable interlocking fixture system with layers of linen gauze and bi-color panels of ecru- and copper-toned felt suspended from the ceiling. You can kind of see through the store, but you can’t. There’s always a sense of privacy, which is a nice thing in the day of the selfie, but you also get a sense of the space beyond.
Project Inspiration: The primary store space evokes the scale and luminosity of an art gallery, a nod to Lafayette 148’s SoHo origins, as well as the brand’s ongoing commitment to craft and handwork in its collections.
I think we’ve gotten used to a level of sound that is quite high-pitched. I used to go to Raoul’s in the early eighties. It’s exactly the same. Maybe a few pieces of art over the bar have changed and maybe some of the fish are different than the ones I remember, but there’s absolutely no architectural difference whatsoever except for the sound level—you could hear a pin drop back in the days of Debbie Harry and Grace Jones. It’s just deafening now. So one of my goals was to try to create a bit of tranquility, and I think people read femininity into that. I’ve been accused of creating temples of testosterone, so I guess I’m going against my natural inclinations here. Originally the space didn’t have a tin ceiling—it had actually had exposed beams because it wasn’t an open flame sweatshop—but by current fire codes we couldn’t expose them again. I’m incredibly sensitive to acoustics. A real sign of elegance is just quiet. It’s very unusual to have a store that is quiet.
Blueprint: Contemporary elements are juxtaposed with original fixtures throughout. Unearthed in the building process, the original columns were meticulously restored, with more than a century’s worth of paint hand-sanded down to the raw steel, then hand-waxed. Other notable design elements include terrazzo wood flooring, a modern wooden joisted ceiling and bronze paneling—a natural echo of the brand’s palette.
Challenges: There’s a philosophy of “pile it high and watch it fly” in retail, where the clothes are so pressed up against the window it looks like there has been an explosion inside. Real estate is extremely expensive, so to convince someone that not having [as much] product is as powerful as having [a lot of] product is difficult. But everyone got it and supported me and it’s turned out to be very successful.
Takeaways/Uniqueness: The brand has always kind of offered drinks to their customers, so I designed a bar cabinet. Lafayette 148 subsequently came out with a home collection and now it has their glassware in it. There’s also an aircraft carrier of a sofa that runs front to back that’s really the backdrop of their home collection.
No matter what it is, I approach all design—even the Steinway Tower, which is 1,500 feet tall—as a residential space. It’s also about a psychology. People are insecure in many ways and feel vulnerable when trying on clothes. I try to make it a kind experience and not about consumption.
Even though online sales are much higher, it’s my hunch that when brick and mortar is removed altogether, there’s a big dip in online sales. People often come and touch, feel, see, and understand and then go buy online. Experiencing a brand in person is when you start to trust it. There’s something about people giving advice that is really important. Before all the stylists and art directors in L.A., you’d go to Bullocks Wilshire and a salesperson would have knowledge of the product and guide you. I think that’s coming back.
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