The Las Vegas Strip may sparkle, but don’t let that fool you: the city is still hurting. Casinos aren’t as bubbly, hotel rooms are a lot cheaper, and shopping districts are not ringing with cash register ka-chings.
But the shine is still on ultra high-end retail companies like Gucci, Fendi and Prada. And for the intrepid design fan—wear sun-glasses!—these retailers offer plenty of new twists on old retail formulas.
Still new after a year, the emirate-grade retail at Las Vegas City Center’s Crystals within the hotel/casino/ residential/entertainment complex is ambitiously over-the-top, using contemporary architectural high-jinx to outshine Vegas’ fake castles and faux world capitals. Last year, the media went wild over the $9 billion City Center, focusing on its architecture. No surprise, it was built by a run of star talent, including Rafael Viñoly, Daniel Libeskind, Helmut Jahn, Norman Foster, and Cesar Pelli. But Crystals’ retail designs hold their own with dynamic, layered, and sometimes surprisingly original designs.
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MGM, the complex’s owner, encouraged the center’s retailers to try different moves from their other stores. And in the formula-obsessed retail world that wasn’t easy. Most, but not all, obliged. And it paid off. Unlike other Vegas retailers, preoccupied with portraying extreme luxury over design innovation, these stores are making design the centerpiece: experimenting with creative forms, textures, technologies, and spatial experiences. While other new retail outlets have opened up in places like the Wynn’s new Encore and at the Venetian’s new Palazzo, and others, including Caesars’ Forum Shops have undergone major renovations, none of them come close to the architectural ambition expressed here. When Crystals opened last year it was only 40% full. Now it’s almost 90% occupied.
The Crystals building was designed by Daniel Libeskind. Outside it shows the architect’s signature angular edges as well as silvery metallic patina. Inside New York-based David Rockwell (who also designed the interior spaces for the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino next door, which opened this past December), helped envision the stores. He started the ball rolling with what he calls “a 21st century park” approach, filling the lofty, light-filled interior with exuberant hybrids—a bamboo and pink agate “Grand Staircase,” trellises fitted with hanging plants, raw steel “trees,” and the piece de resistance—a whopping, 70-foot-tall “tree house” made of mahogany and sapele slabs.
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At Crystals, foreground and background are equally important, and there is as much emphasis on atmosphere as on the actual merchandise. Prada, designed by architect Roberto Bachioci, uses dark and patterned steel tubes to provide a sense of texture, height, and visual rhythm—the company’s values, in other words, are writ at every scale. Stainless steel cones on the upper floors pierce the exterior wall like portholes—a slightly disorienting Alice in Wonderland at Studio 54 moment. Louis Vuitton’s store, designed by interior star Peter Marino, uses the brand’s omnipresent diamond-shaped logo as a shiny metallic backdrop—small logos are connected to form room dividers, for instance— cladding walls, staircases, and everything in between (including the store’s 31-foot-tall chandelier). In a far corner and exposed to the street, Gucci’s is the shiniest of all, with mirrored ceilings and walls and polished steel floors echoing the visitors as much as the merchandise.