I didn’t sleep the whole time,” exclaims the infectiously passionate Christian Lahoude, Founder and Creative Director of New York’s Christian Lahoude Studio. An architect with a well-defined niche in designing top-end retail environments, Christian’s past employers and clients include Gucci, Tiffany and Chanel.
For a once-aspiring fashion designer, architecture for fashion is the realisation of two lifelong passions. “This is the dream,” Christian says. “Growing up in the ‘90s era of supermodels, I always wanted to be a fashion designer. My mother was a seamstress and I loved going with her to the fabric store. I loved touching all the fabrics and textures... My father owned a real estate business. I remember on Saturdays going with him to see the physical models and building plans. It influenced something in me, creating an interest in drawing along with the fabric and fashion inspiration I took from my Mom. I’ve always liked art and creativity and I thought architecture was a good balance between the creative and the scientific.”
His work now focuses on creating exclusive retail experiences through curated and collaborative interior design. “I work closely with Creative Directors for top fashion brands to understand their brand’s character. I then use that to explore the codes, patterns and logos we can use throughout a space to punctuate their identity. Ultimately, what I do is to create memories for customers which they will keep and which will encourage them to return.”
Christian has been designing stores and brand environments around the world since 2004. He brings inspiration from his childhood in Lebanon and his formative years in Paris to his current practice in New York as it approaches its 9th birthday. “As a child, I grew up in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Lebanon. We had floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea which I think was the original inspiration for my fascination with light. But it was a challenging time because of the [Lebanese Civil] War, so we would often go to visit my mother’s family in France to get away from the conflict. I fell in love with Paris: the food the museums, the contemporary dance, the fashion. It’s a dream city that cultivated a sense of aesthetic and refinement in me. When I went to study there, I also became really passionate about photography. I would meander the streets and take photos of the Siene. I fell in love with dynamic, interactive art and movement, all of which are concepts I still use in my work today.”
For the last 18 years, Christian has lived and worked in New York which he describes as an inspiring city which provides him with an international platform that opens up his work to the world. The city has also provided a backdrop for him to do the work he does best: identifying a brand’s local identity and expressing it through their retail experience. Through clients like Jimmy Choo, Christian has designed collections of stores in locations as varied as Tokyo, Beirut and Beijing. But his favourite example of customisation in action is Jimmy Choo’s two Manhattan branches, one on Madison Avenue and the other in Soho. “Madison Avenue is very upper-east-side wealth and sophistication.
For that design we included elements like gold leaf on the ceiling, mirror details and marble floors. Soho, on the other hand, is very down-town cool with a younger, fashionista customer. Its design incorporated the existing ductwork and exposed ceiling with skylights to mirror the natural, outdoor feel of the chic neighbourhood. Both stores portray luxury and showcase the same products, but with an environment that really speaks to their unique customers and what makes them comfortable.”
International travel and identity have always been a huge part Christian’s work; his ethos is that the location makes the project. One of the more unexpected inspiration sources, he says, is the houses of worship in the places he visits. “I meditate a lot. I value moments spent in religious spaces and I often visit them when I travel, even if I don’t know anything about the belief being practiced. I just love the moment of calm and peace and watching how users interact with the space. It helps me to understand the local culture. I know it sounds like the opposite of fashion – and I do worship shopping – but I have diversity in my personality which I often try to use to understand the best solution for my projects. I can’t help it,” he laughs. “I’m a Gemini.”
Throughout his career, Christian has always travelled back to Lebanon and is excited to be a part of its rebuild since the War. In 2015 he returned to design the interiors of the multilevel shopping centre. “It was a very challenging but rewarding project. We created multi-brand interiors over six floors with a restaurant, a spa and an art gallery. We worked with the best manufacturers in Italy to create it. Every time I go back to see it, I can feel how I’ve contributed to the growth of the country after the War.”
Since going out on his own, Christian has diversified his client pool to avoid being pigeon-holed at the very top-end of a very established market, a change he says has been a really defining decision in his career. One of his most rewarding collaborations has been with Alexander Wang who approached him as an emerging designer hoping to grow his brand in Asia. “It was an amazing opportunity to work with someone young, fun, creative and upcoming. He would send me photos of things like side-walks as inspiration. And that’s the part of the collaborative process that I really love: working really closely with Creative Directors, trying to guess what’s in their mind and then translate it into architecture.”
The pandemic has been unsurprisingly challenging for Christian, with the impacts on New York being among COVID’s worst. “There was suddenly this external force stopping me from the work that I love doing and I was so unhappy. But I went back to France for a few months to reconnect with my family and, when I returned, New York was much safer. I’m seeing opportunities now, with a lot of brands looking to rethink their identities after the pandemic. I’m also really lucky that I’ve been able to stay connected with my team throughout this time and continue to interact with them every day. Many of them are young and emerging architects who I found through my occasional work in critiquing student studio projects. We’re like a family and we love learning from each other.”
“This is the dream,” Christian says.
Having regrouped after the worst of the pandemic, Christian’s studio is busy again with the period ahead and excited about new clients including a luxury lingerie brand, a jewellery store and a French cognac. On a personal level, he is excited to get back out and experience what he most enjoys: art. “I’ve been missing performing arts and art in general, as well as the social aspects that come with that. I’m lucky to have survived well through the pandemic but I’m ready to get back out enjoy New York. I read the New York Times every day and wonder when I will be able to get out and see something new! I have very hungry eyes.”
To connect with Christian, visit http://christianlahoude.com/, follow him on Instagram and sign up for his newsletter here.