February 28, 2002

NYC: 1, Ithaca: 0

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New York City vs. Ithaca: the definitive piece of evidence has fallen into place. In the past, as my Columbia and NYU friends raved of their urban exploits, I was always able to find a Tompkins County counterpoint. My friend would excitedly disclose that Bob Dylan made a surprise appearance at The Wetlands; I would gloat that Stephen Bard showed up at Sig Ep after-hours. Another would brag that she hung out in a VIP room with Justin Timberlake, only meanwhile my friends and I were at a play with Professor Schwarz. They exclaim “Sample Sales!,” I say “House of Shalimar.” But in my visit to the City last weekend, I came to find that we Ithacans had been outdone, and how? By the new Prada store on lower Broadway.

You now question me; my credibility has been thrown out the sunroof of my Jeep Grand Cherokee. But no, I am not the typical Prada browser. I am a mere art lover. Check my wrists and neck: I do not bare the hearts and beans of Tiffany. I did not enter Prada to make a direct path to overpriced nylon bags — as one pack of label hungry 15-year-olds did. I entered the brick building near Prince St. on the suggestion of the New York Times, and Jesus, call the Bonton and tell them we have been outdone.

The famed architect Rem Koolhaas has deliciously merged fashion and architecture. What emerges is an adult funhouse complete with mirrors recalling your worst shrooming nightmare. Rem’s changing-rooms feature a video of you projected onto the mirror alongside your natural reflection and other less pertinent images. Mirrored, digitized, reprojected, and naked–an unnerving and alluring experience.

More use of multimedia is made with the occasional flatscreen suspended via hanger amongst the clothes. Artsy pixelated footage is played, the variety found in abundance around Tjaden. The bottom floor holds yet more wonder: a cavernous space of endless rooms and nooks. (Truly, if you ever loved forts, Prada happens to be the place for you).

Koolhaas, a Dutch rebel, breaks the rules of shopping to meld the audience’s space with the display space. Seating is provided amongst the shoes on amphitheater-esque seating. Prada luggage is left around irregularly as if forgotten by its owners. And great oversized mannequins magnify the sense of play.

With so much to explore, the clothes actually become secondary, though their perceived artistry is strengthened. And with so many rooms you can be sure to avoid any Manhattanite teeny-boppers monogrammed by Louis Vuitton. Strongholds against such infiltration are available on the first floor in the form of industrially inspired metalic alcoves.

The concept of a stylish structure to house stylish clothes is not new, and was kicked into high gear with William Sofield’s 5th Ave. Gucci flagship. But Koolhaas has elevated the merger of architecture and fashion to new aesthetic heights, while putting the Netherlands on the map for something more respectable than prostitutes and pot.

If the appeal of a product is weighted heavily in its packaging, than Koolhaas has built Prada a masterpiece of a container. True, the phenomenon can be experienced right here in town with the clever advent of Cornell Water. The university label accentuates the allure of the water within. However, to truly immerse yourself in this particular invention a voyage to this cultural mecca is enthusiastically encouraged, for all population sectors.

Archived article by Sarah Fuss