The Albemarle Street shop front for Paul Smith builds on a familiar material tradition in London. Cast iron forms an understated background to the city’s streets; its railings, gratings, balconies, and lamp posts. Paul’s brief was an eclectic collection of references, images, textures and traditions, encompassing military medals, woven hats and finely drawn gold ingots alongside sharp tailoring, the soft fall of cloth, craftsmanship and delight in surprise.
The ground floor rustication of the Georgian townhouse and the ornamental language of the 18th century shop front were reinterpreted and abstracted in a sinuous pattern of interlocking circles cast into a new solid iron façade. The repetition of the typical Regency shape brought an optical complexity which, with the play of sunlight and shadow, turns the pattern into a deep surface texture. Seen obliquely it seems woven, like a fine cloth.
The surface is further enlivened by the latent makers’ marks of the casting process and the natural patination of the cast iron. A more intimate discovery is to be made in the trio of small drawings by Paul Smith cast directly into panels scattered across the façade.
Curved windows project from the darkly textured iron as luminous vitrines, with a nod to the curved glass of the nearby arcades. A secret door of stained oak lies flush with the cast iron panels: the inverted carving of the timber recalls the mould and sand bed prepared for the molten metal. The cast iron panels curve in to the recessed oak entrance door and a gently bowed iron step evokes worn away treads. Over time, the iron threshold will polish under foot, recording the life of the building in its material.