Being world-famous for creating remarkable building exteriors can sometimes be a drag for a star architect like Jean Nouvel. 'When Stefano Beraldo (CEO of Gruppo Coin) called me, he asked if I could just do the façade,' Nouvel notes of the Excelsior, his latest retail architectural project that debuted yesterday in Milan. 'I said, "No, I can't just do the façade." When I work on a building I have to create the relationship between the exterior and everything else that goes on inside.' Luckily, Beraldo saw the light. Annexing a forgotten corner of the city's grand Galleria del Corso, Nouvel has transformed a dusty old movie theatre into a 7-storey fashion, food and design emporium - his very first architectural imprint on the city of Milan.
Naturally, the façade is a stand-out feature. Razor sharp glazed aluminium slats are slightly angled to give a fiery peep show of fractured images projected from the LED screens that run along balustrades. 'I didn't want to reveal the images directly,' Nouvel insists, 'I wanted them to be temporal, as if they were sliding behind a window.'
Inside, the French architect has coated the walls of the old theatre with reflective paints that jump at the light beaming off LED screens. Each floor is disconnected from the perimeter, as if floating, and the multitude of balconies evoke the site's former theatre self.
Nouvel wasn't the only big name lured by the new retail project. Antonia Giacinti - owner of the Antonia multi-brand stores located in the city - served as a buying consultant, ensuring that cool labels such as Haider Ackermann, Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra and Isabel Marant finally found a home in Milan. Vincenzo De Cotiis coordinated the floor design, which features wood and steel fixtures as well as polished cement block displays. Finally, Davide Oldani, the hot shot chef behind D'O, served as a food consultant for the bottom two basement levels which feature take-out, bistro and restaurant services, plus a food market to rival the gloss and prices found at Peck.