Some people who go looking for The Lake and Stars‘ new retail space in New York’s Soho district will probably keep walking past the non-descript gray building, thinking: “Nah, THAT can’t be it!”
There are no sexy undies in the window, no flashy sign, no parade of young shoppers leaving with little pink bags. In fact, the first pop-up shop* for New York’s hippest fashion-forward lingerie label looks nothing like a retail showroom and a lot like a post-modern art installation instead.
The Walker Street space might actually be New York’s least commercial fashion showcase: there are no chirpy salesgirls in the dimly lit atelier, and the mannequins and product racks are literally hidden behind a wall.
You can buy Lake and Stars goodies here, but first you’re going to have to do some exploring, soak up the art school vibe, and consider the socio-sexual commentary that is a fundamental part of the TL&S aesthetic. If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. But this is a label that consistently rewards the curious seeker, and their first foray into retail merchandising is no exception.
The Lake and Stars’ store is open for only two weeks and it’s part of the ‘Building Fashion’ program by the non-profit group BOFFO, which is helping to promote five cutting-edge designers with a series of these installations. Each of the chosen fashion labels worked with a hand-picked architecture firm to transform the shop into something unique.
Here’s what Nikki Dekker and Maayan Zilberman, the duo behind The Lake and Stars, came up with in their partnership with the avant garde New York design firm SOFTlab:
The bleached showroom is bisected by a long black wall that is pocked with small protruding windows that resemble portholes. You peek through the (sometimes tiny) slits and your gaze takes you through a plexiglas chute that reveals a small detail of a TL&S product worn by mannequins that are lined up behind the wall. Prepare to get on your knees or up on your toes to access some of the openings; and expect to be confused, since the 3-D windows create a distortion similar to looking through a kaleidoscope.
It’s all very disorienting and the point of the installation reveals itself slowly. Nikki and Maayan have apparently decided to use their first public space not so much to promote their brand but to showcase the thinking behind it. Their BOFFO space invites questions about the conflicting public and private views of intimate garments and the voyeuristic associations that come with looking at them.
And here’s the central irony: hidden behind that rather ominous and forboding 60-foot wall are some spectacularly beautiful and inventive works of fashion-art that deserve to be shown off proudly. When you finally see the models, they’re like creatures in a zoo that you want to set free.
Once you’ve explored all the little peepholes comes the payoff: you can access a narrow, bright corridor where the mannequins are lined up — and finally get your hands on some TL&S bras, bodies and other items. You feel like you’re backstage, looking out toward an unseen audience.
And this creates another kind of disorientation: from the product racks, you can only see the mannequins from behind. In fact, at no point do you ever get a full-frontal view of one of the brand’s outfits. If you’re like me, you’ll spend a lot of time contorting your body to find a better angle from which to see just a bit more of the products on semi-display.
It’s an almost defiantly anti-commercial statement, and it would be death for any other label. But it all makes sense for The Lake and Stars, which has always invited its followers to consider their work — and intimate fashion in general — from new and unfamiliar vantage points. If you’re open to this label’s challenging aesthetic, their BOFFO shop is a must-see.
As for the products available for purchase, you’ll find the label’s latest collection and some of the most memorable items from their catalog, such as the legendary backless tights from last year’s fall range (I talked to a young man in the shop who was going to buy a pair for himself!)
But for people already familiar with TL&S, the highlight of the shop will be the label’s quirky new collection of accessories and collectibles (you know you’re a cult brand when ….). Look for TL&S branded fridge magnets, toothbrushes, candles, candy and — get in line now! — limited edition, all-black Nike Air Force 1 kicks (see photo above) bearing the Lake and Stars logo. They’re $275 a pair and available by special order only, but you can get a look at them in the BOFFO shop: all the mannequins are wearing a set.
There’s a fair bit of humor in this project, too, but it’s sly and it creeps up on you. The best example is actually an inside joke: the mannequins used for the display were specially commissioned to resemble brunette Maayan and blonde Nikki. You need to know them to find it amusing, but even then you’ll be left scratching your head: the plastic faux Nikki has no ink, which, alas, makes her just another blonde.
NOTES: BOFFO, the new-ish agency that conceived this clever series, is facing a funding crisis after incurring $30,000 in unforeseen costs to mount the first exhibition, which featured Mugler designer Nicola Formichetti and drew crowds back in September. BOFFO has set up a Kickstarter campaign to help cover expenses; it’s a very worthy (and new) cause with no grant funding and only a few sponsors. Check it out, and look for some awesome ‘gifts’ that go along with each Kickstarter donation.
The Lake and Stars shop can be found at 57 Walker Street until Nov. 23. On Dec. 1, the final installation in the BOFFO series will feature another NYC design duo, womenswear label Ohne Titel.
*The word “first” is a bit misleading: TL&S opened a boutique space in Vancouver’s Waldorf Hotel last winter, and they did a diffusion line called Double in Brass for Urban Outfitters last year. And, of course, they’re available in many boutiques around this city and others.