This weekend’s opening of the new DFS department store Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice adds yet another layer to the city’s many-splendoured charms – though ‘store’ barely begins to describe the sheer scale of the experience.
Located on the San Marco side of the Rialto, the Fondaco takes up an entire 13th-century palazzo. Originally built as a warehouse, office and residence for the city’s German merchants (see our October issue, W*211), this was recently reimagined by OMA – responsible for the large scale architectural interventions and preservation works – and Jamie Fobert Architects, who created the internal retail vision.
The new store features an irresistible gourmet section
Clearly edited with an eye on the luxury market, the stock is a bewildering sweep of over 300, mainly Italian, brands. Gucci and Bottega Veneta hold court on the ground level alongside an Italian specialist gourmet corner, while a spiralling ribbon of cardinal red escalators rise to the upper floors, which stock women’s fashion and jewellery (first floor), men’s fashion and watches (second), and women’s shoes and beauty (third).
Fobert’s room-sets subtly demarcate the stock by brand and category. Lined with handsome timber shelves and flooring, and bubble chandeliers, the spaces flow organically from the outer corridor that looks through the arched loggias into the courtyard, to the inner rooms that are awash with light from windows lining all four sides of the palazzo. And invariably, the eye is drawn along corridors linked with arched doorways, while the struts of the display shelves quietly reference ancient Venetian doorways.
A glass pavilion sitting at the top of the Fondaco was also restored by OMA and will be used for public and private events
The fourth floor is an unexpectedly huge exhibition space that’s currently showing Underwater, Fabrizio Plessi’s mesmerising video installation of submerged mosaics. For sheer spectacle, though, it’s difficult to beat the view of Venice, unyielding in its soft beauty, and the bend of the Grand Canal, from the public rooftop deck.
On literally every level, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi – the cost of which is discretely said to have been ‘a significant amount’ – reflects DFS's confidence in what it regards as Venice’s underdeveloped luxury retail scene. In fact, a couple of million visitors a year are expected to drop in. Quite what the actual spend will be is anybody’s guess, but there is every reason to expect the Fondaco to be a certified crowd-pleaser.