[Postscript: 12/10/14] Crain's Chicago Business reported that the Allsaints store would be replaced by a T-Mobile flagship store.
click images for larger view (recommended)It began, not all that long ago, like this . . .
spectacularly unsuccessful Chicago Place vertical mall on North Michigan Avenue, done up in a style that might best be called Prairie School meets glitz generic. It was finally put out of its misery about two decades later. Dominating the entrance were two 42-foot-high murals by Thomas Melvin, depicting Chicago in broad strokes and superbright colors . . .
AllSaints Spitalfields, the British clothier. Like Chicago Place, it was born in the 1990's, but there the comparison ends. By the time it opened, Chicago Place was upholding traditions that were already dead; AllSaints was defining what was to come.
our mission is to create a brand that blends cultural, fashion and music into a potent formula of desirable clothing that expresses individuality and attitude.AllSaints doesn't advertise, depending instead on word-of-mouth, and it keeps in place a kind of corporate omerta about itself. Staff is forbidden to speak about the business - you can make up a far better back story for the Mise-en-scène in your own head. One description of the chain's design mantra is "crumpled fabrics and clothes that often to the untrained eye might appear to be lopsided."
The design of the new 11,000-square-foot Chicago flagship is surreal and spectacular - Dickensian Gothic. It's been described as being modeled "after an industrial European rail station," but it seems much more like an abandoned factory, scrubbed to a high polish that never existed in its original incarnation. According to a great account by Tim Girvin of the evolution of the Allfields Spitalfields brand and design of its Seattle outpost . . .
“The All Saints store is an expensive monument to the distressed style of decoration: the brickwork is exposed, the wood flooring carefully aged.” According to friends working as the architects of record for the Seattle location, the concept of detailing that degradation is one of careful staging — teams working for weeks on the blasting and chiseling of every single brick. All Saints Spitalfields becomes in this light, a kind of set design, a cinematic production.
Today, sewing machines tend of be not black but white, but the basic principles of manufacturing remain in the factories in China and other developing countries where almost all the clothing we buy is made. Perhaps a century from now, we'll be purchasing our apparel in stores designed in a kind of nostalgic replication of the typical contemporary industrial setting you can see here.
"And other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" Comedy=tragedy+time. Certainly a parallel formula holds true for high-end retailing. As brutal as the early industrial age may appear to us now, at the time - to capitalist and laborer alike - it was an age of optimism, of moving beyond the Malthusian uncertainty of rural life.
In either case, they'll be plenty of time later to mine the deeper, darker meanings of AllSaint's Terry Gilliam/Mark Romanek vision of the perfect selling space. For now, be sure to check out the trippy architectural concoction that has Potter Palmer and Arthur Rubloff turning over in their graves. But then again, Rubloff was always a snappy dresser . . .