Fashion, just like architecture, is about more than what meets the eye. Akris creative director Albert Kriemler knows this well: ‘For me, fashion is not just visual; it is about feeling, it is tactile. In the end, we wear clothes on our skin. This is something you need to feel, not just look at. In interiors, as in fashion, it is always about material and fabrics first.’ It was this intangible quality, this sense of elegance but also comfort and ease that Kriemler wanted to replicate in spatial terms when he embarked on the search for the right partner for a new series of concept stores for the century-old Swiss label. He soon found his perfect match in the studio of David Chipperfield.

David Chipperfield Architects for Akris

Kriemler and Chipperfield have known each other for more than 20 years, having first met at a party in Zurich through a mutual friend, German architect Christoph Sattler. The British architect’s ‘sensitivity towards context and site specification’, as well as his distinct balance of ‘traditional requirements with a modern, minimalist design approach’, were what attracted the Akris designer to offer him the commission. ‘There is a sense of minimalist beauty and precision, a love of quality and functionalism in this new concept, which I can relate to,’ Kriemler says. ‘He is very experienced in dealing with existing structures, and that is what we need. When we look into new locations for our boutiques, we have to make compromises, because we do not build a house from scratch. David can reconsider old complex situations with the utmost respect – that is what I admire.’

Chipperfield, who famously kick-started his London practice by designing a series of stores for the likes of Issey Miyake, Kenzo and Equipment, is an experienced hand in the fashion world. Now the celebrated architect has additional offices in Berlin, Shanghai, Santiago de Compostela and Milan. The latter is helmed by Giuseppe Zampieri, the practice partner who also heads up the Akris project. ‘We immediately found common ground with Peter [Kriemler, president of Akris] and Albert Kriemler in our discussions about how to best represent Akris values,’ Zampieri says. ‘Materiality and craftsmanship with an international vision are the pillars of this Swiss brand. It was important to translate “Swissness” into something conceptual while avoiding cliché – an expression of heritage, precision and accuracy, celebrating the brand’s roots in Saint Gallen, one of the world’s leading textile centres.’

The practice is known for its ability to work with a brand and translate it into architectural space in an extremely tailored way. Here, highly refined architecture meets a deep understanding of fashion identities and the ever-changing needs of the particular market, Zampieri explains: ‘Through the years, our approach and language changed according to the evolution of the brands and of the wider industry itself. Our clients are increasingly characterised by a richer research into craftsmanship, as well as a greater attention to the local sourcing of materials. In recent years, fashion houses have come to us to develop an extremely adaptive store concept that can respond to their need for repetition in various locations.’

Launched to coincide with the fashion house’s centenary in 2022, a prototype of the new concept debuted in Washington DC in early May 2022, quickly followed by the Tokyo Ginza store the same month. Another, in Chicago, is currently in the works, due to open in the second half of 2023. The design draws on the pillars of the Swiss brand – materiality and craftsmanship. The architects found inspiration in Italian modernist artist Bruno Munari’s tensile structures, using the same technique as a device to craft space. The result is an interior that appears solid, but also delicate, almost floating, with white painted wood panelling serving as a background to a minimalist display system of taut steel cables and shelves. Akris’ signature material, ivory-coloured horsehair fabric, features in the fitting rooms.

Akris aims for timeless modernity, stresses Kriemler, who also counts Adolf Loos among his sources of architectural inspiration. The Austrian modernist also wrote fashion reviews, and Kriemler recalls how the architect once outlined that ‘a garment was modern when the person who wore it did not stand out’. This corresponds perfectly with Akris’ vision for collections that are selbstverständlich (natural, effortless and self-evident).

The new concept by David Chipperfield Architects certainly delivers on this approach – these spaces are a representation of the brand’s future. And what would the ideal Akris store say to its visitors? ‘That fashion is about the person first,’ says Kriemler. ‘That is why it is also important to us how women feel in our store. Our mission is to make a woman feel her best self through what she wears – determined and free so she can express her own personality and charisma.