For James Wines, the founder and president of the cult architecture firm SITE (Sculpture in the Environment), retail design offers opportunities for visual surprise. Perhaps even bombast: SITE’s iconic series of BEST big-box stores, completed across the United States in the 1970s and ’80s, appeared poised on the verge of collapse or fracture. What meaning customers could find in these cryptic spectacles was located somewhere between irony and mordant humor.
Virgil Abloh, the founder of the wildly popular luxury fashion brand Off-White, cultivated a keen appreciation of SITE’s visual wit when he was studying to become an architect himself. Several years later, that appreciation would turn to mutual regard: After Abloh invited Wines to design the latest Off-White storefront in a corner of Galleria Gwanggyo, the OMA-designed mall in the newly planned city of Gwanggyo, South Korea, the two were struck by how closely aligned their design philosophies were. “We share an interest in the concept of inversion,” Wines said in a phone interview, “and we both like to challenge convention at every opportunity.”
In collaboration with Suzan Wines, the cofounder of the New York–based architecture firm I-Beam Design, Wines conceived his most muted and ephemeral project yet. He likened his creation, comprising little more than white metal scrims and mirrored glass, to an “invisible” retail installation that retreats from the spotlight to imbue Abloh’s apparel with the illusion of weightlessness.
Though the design appears to quietly defer to Off-White’s bold wares, it performs plenty of conceptual heavy lifting. “I always like to work with a found object for inspiration,” said Wines. “For this project, that was the name of the brand itself.” Interpreting Abloh’s signature hue as the vast gray area of modern life, Wines sought to create moments within the roughly 900 square foot space where the white scrims would overlap to literally produce various shades of off-white.
When viewed obliquely, the undulating side walls form niches to display the merchandise while appearing to disappear behind it. Even the serpentine bench that runs down the middle of the store is easily missed, bookended by large glass vitrines containing Off-White accessories. Linear bands of lights shine evenly across the ceiling, leaving no nook or cranny for shadows to gather.
Yet Wines conceded that, unlike with much of his previous work, he is not overly concerned about how these fleeting effects translate in photography or on social media. “This project is primarily about the physical interactions between customers and the products,” he explained. “It is a monochrome background, a framing device that can also disappear to just let Virgil’s work shine.”
Header image: Metal screens and mirrored glass are meant to make the architecture recede into the background and let the clothes—their bright colors and silhouettes—come to the fore. (Courtesy OFF-WHITE)