If the week’s unseasonable heat has you worried about global warming, a trip to West Chelsea might help soothe your soul. At the far end of 23rd Street, in the shadow of the High Line, sits a large block of ice. This ice―actually a glacial cavern of carved styrofoam―is the fourth in a series of pop-up shops that form the Building Fashion project, the brainchild of arts organization BOFFO and architect and designer Spilios Gianakopoulos. The current iteration, which opened last Friday with a party, where Metric performed an acoustic set, co-hosted by The Last Magazine and Droog, features Richard Chai’s men’s and women’s collections, and was designed by the artist-architect partnership Snarkitecture.
For both designer and architects, the sculptural nature of the shop, which sits on a lot previously inhabited by the sales office for Neil Denari’s HL23, a futuristic apartment building that looms precariously above, allows for the transformation of the everyday business of browsing racks into an emotional experience. “It was important to me for someone to go into the space and have a strong feeling of exploration and discovery,” Chai explains. “I wanted people to wander through the space and find things in the little nooks.” To that end, the interior space was literally carved from the solid block of styrofoam delivered to the site. “Most architecture is additive,” explains Daniel Arsham, the artist half of Snarkitecture, “so you start from nothing and then you build on it. This space is subtractive―we started with a solid volume filling the space, and the actual space was excavated from that.” The malleable nature of the material meant that the curves could be altered to fit the displays and racks as necessary. “We were there the night before with clothes in the space, literally forming the space around Richard’s collection,” recalls Alex Mustonen, the other partner in Snarkitecture. Chai says that his experience with Building Fashion has strengthened his desire for a permanent shop of his own some day; this store is an experiment of sorts, a new direction for a designer whose many collaborations have broadened his understanding of the artistic world. “It’s pretty amazing what Building Fashion has created,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to work with creative people and see how it goes.”