Brooklyn-based architectural firm Almost Studio has designed the1,500-square-foot flagship boutique for the popular emerging fashion designer Sandy Liang .The design draws loosely from the playful, process-based aesthetic of Liang’s eponymous line,as well as from the industrial interiors of the surrounding Chinatown/Lower East Sideneighborhood, where Liang grew up and her family has worked since the 1970s.
Previously, thespace was occupied by a laundromat. The boutique is slated to open this December.The project is a story of firsts for both the architects and the client—it is Almost Studio’sinaugural retail store design and Sandy Liang’s first physical boutique. The project is also drivenby deep personal ties between collaborators.
Almost Studio’s co-founder Dorian Booth andLiang are a couple, and Liang’s father’s company, Sun Sun Contracting Inc., served as thegeneral contractor. Liang’s family is also deeply connected to the surrounding neighborhood.The new boutique is within several blocks of Liang’s design studio, her grandmother’s home,and her father’s restaurant—the iconic Congee Village.Almost Studio, comprised of Booth and co-founder Anthony Gagliardi, began designing theboutique in August 2019.
Located on the ground floor of a five-story brick building built in 1900,the space previously housed a laundromat whose walls were lined with washers, dryers, foldingtables, and kinetic clothing racks. To begin, the firm extracted all appliances, existing ceilingtiles, and a low tile platform encircling the space. The original grey concrete floor was patchedand sealed, the ceiling was completely replaced to accommodate duct work for a new HVACsystem (the space was previously unventilated and without air-conditioning ) , and the glassstorefront was framed in stainless steel.
An open, albeit narrow rectangular space resulted.Almost Studio’s principal challenge was to “generate a spatial logic that allowed the store to feelcohesive, while also inserting an enfilade of individualized areas within the irregular and narrowspace,” says Gagliardi. The firm also aimed to express the dynamic playfulness of Liang’sclothing line in architectural form, as well as nod to the aesthetic and spatial qualities of theoriginal laundromat.The organizational strategy conceived by Almost Studio hinges on a series of spatial andmaterial layers that distinguish different areas and uses—a program Booth describes as “astage set with overlapping backdrops.” Arranged linearly from the front of the store to the back,these areas include: clothing display and shopping; point of sale; dressing rooms and bathroom;and kitchen and office.Upon entering the boutique, one first encounters the shopping area, which is 60-feet-long andtelescopes from 20-feet wide to as narrow as 12-feet wide in some areas.
Distinctive customclothing rods made from raw, cold-rolled steel line both walls, extending back from the storefrontwindow to the point of sale and dressing rooms. The display system is both playful andindustrial, combining a straight rod and a second irregular rod that loops, rises, and divesaround it. The rod’s playfully meandering route alludes to the original laundromat’s clothingconveyors; the jungle gyms found on local Chinatown playgrounds; and the balance of utilityand whimsy expressed in Liang’s clothing.
Functionally, the curved rod also providesopportunities to display special pieces and create secondary spaces.As the rods extend towards the rear, they intersect with a trio of metal mesh curtains, shapedlike halved archways, which suspend from the ceiling. These segment the shopping area intothree rooms—display system, point of sale, and dressing rooms—while still maintainingtransparency between them.
A cylindrical void cuts the mesh curtains on an angle leading to thepoint of sale and dressing rooms, amplifying the perceived depth of the space through a forcedperspective as they recede into the back of the boutique.Throughout the shopping area, the walls are left in a transitional state. Pink primer, usuallyembedded behind a top coat of paint, is left exposed and covered with pencil marks from theconstruction process, spackling, and scrawled measurements.
The pink hue reads as playfuland the pencil markings allude to a transparent design process—one that also manifests inLiang’s clothing, where hardware such as grommets, buttons, and zippers that are traditionallytucked away become visible decorative elements.The material palette of the dressing rooms and bathroom, which are gathered into a singlerectangular volume at the shopping area’s rear, also strike a balance between unfinished andfinished, raw and refined, industrial and luxurious, utility and whimsy.
While clad in raw plywood,doors open to reveal jewel-box interiors. Walls are encrusted with green granite tiles andcustom mirrors by Almost Studio. Across from the dressing rooms, the point of sale is clad inlustrous green marble. The green stone that punctuates these areas also nods to Liang’supbringing—the materials are a staple of her childhood homes and her father’s restaurants.Moving further into the space, a polycarbonate sliding door and a thickened, arched thresholddivides the public shopping area from the private, back-of-house kitchen and office.
Passingthrough the door reveals a 5-feet by 10-feet stainless steel “sleeve,” into which a kitchenette,whose custom steel cabinetry draws from Chinatown’s industrial kitchens, and a CYC wall forseamless photoshoots are tucked. Just beyond, a large custom, natural canvas curtain wrapsthe office walls, hiding stainless steel storage shelves and creating distinction between the officeand kitchenette.
The curtain’s soft, albeit heavy folds simultaneously soften and compress theboutique’s back-of-house spaces.Overall, the project extends Almost Studio’s view that the built environment is always “inprocess, almost complete,” says Booth. “Nothing is ever finished; a project is always becoming.”The boutique also offered a platform for the firm to continue exploring spatial and aestheticreferences from outside of the canon—in this case, Chinatown kitchens, construction sites,laundromats, playgrounds, and fashion—and a play between high and low materials.
These areapproaches that Almost Studio and Liang share.Liang says of the flagship boutique and collaboration with Almost Studio: “I like to think of thestore as a physical extension of my general approach to clothes—I don’t think anything needs tobe ultra serious, I appreciate a bit of humor and playfulness in everything.
And I want to payhomage to where I came from, and who my community is. The community is such a large part ofmyself, my family’s history, and how I think about design—so, in a way, the store will be thespatial representation of the brand. I’m so excited to share that, because it will be the first time
customers can see who we are, outside of what we post on social media and our collections.”.