When she launched her curated boutique on Milan's 10 Corso Como back in 1990, Carla Sozzani couldn't have imagined her vision would eventually infiltrate the Champs Elysees of China. Still, last week she cut the ribbon on her fourth and latest concept shop, in a four-storey glass missile on Shanghai's flashiest shopping street, the Nanjing West Road.
The 2,500 sq m building is more akin to Sozzani's glass-and-steel Seoul location than the original Milanese villa. In a quintessential East Asian circumstance, its neighbour is the 58-storey Wheelock Square, Shanghai's fifth-tallest tower, though its polished glass façade reflects the image of Jing'an Temple, a Buddhist sanctuary that has inhabited the opposite corner for nearly 2,000 years.
Sozzani stripped back the interior to its raw, industrial core and bare white walls, adding a polished-concrete floor and leaving the rest to her longtime collaborator, the artist Kris Ruhs. The Corso Como monochrome palette was his starting point, and the hand-drawn circles that have become a motif across the brand now swathe Shanghai's café walls, terrace floor and even Seussian faux-flower arrangements on circular tables.
Elsewhere Ruhs has taken his trademark scrap-metal sculpture to new heights. He has rounded thick concrete pillars in moiré patterns of paper-thin steel and installed perforated metal skins on the acute-angled windows. And he has designed some display tables with precision-cut circles and others by interlocking sheets of metal in architectural patterns. Meanwhile, the freestanding clothing rails and mirrors take on anthropomorphic qualities under his outlandish hand.
The collection in store is light on Asian design. Comme des Garçons always has a presence in the Corso Como sphere, yet it appears Chinese designer's haven't quite hit the right note for Sozzani. European brands like Margiela, Celine and now J.W. Anderson cloak the Ruhs-designed mannequins here, amid vitrines of Courrèges sunglasses, tableaux of iconic seating and a paint-spattered men's oxford designed by Andy Warhol for Ferragamo in the 1960s.
The third-floor gallery is only slightly more sober. Ruhs constructed bulbous viewing benches and generous concrete plinths for art books (his own feature prominently, to be sure) but kept the rest fuss-free to keep the focus on dozens of framed photographic works. The view from the bar and restaurant on the fourth level - called the fifth here, to appease Chinese superstitions - is face to face with the temple, now dwarfed by a city of skyscrapers whose top-floor bars would overlook it completely.