Fashion: Shop to shock

Rosanna de Lisle visits Moschino's European flagship store in London's West End - and finds a fitting tribute to the eccentric designer
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The Independent Culture
THE TROUBLE with the dead is that you don't know - given half the chance of life - what they'd be doing now. Franco Moschino died in 1994. Were he still with us, the Italian priest of eccentricity and subversion might, by 1998, have renounced his past in favour of minimal austerity. But given his track record, it's unlikely.

The designers of Moschino's first, stand-alone London store have gone with expectations. The shop, in Conduit Street, is new enough to feel new, and yet not so new as to alienate the fans of a couturier whose look was essentially Eighties. At the end of 1996, the Moschino team, picking up the pieces, appointed the British architecture-design practice Hosker, Moore & Kent to create a fresh, but consistent look for Moschino stores across the world.

The Conduit Street store, which unites two adjoining buildings, has a conservative Edwardian shop-front. "The Moschino team really like that," says Peter Kent, of HM&K. "They're very keen that this should be a real London shop." But the smallish windows and black lacquer panelling (which once fronted a jeweller's) belie the thoroughly gutted interior. Approach the door (handles the halves of a gold heart; swung open by a doorman who, unusually for Bond Street, seems pleased to see you), and in a second you'll find yourself facing a hard choice: whether to be drawn, inexorably, up a gentle slope that runs alongside a stunning red lacquer wall - dressed with just three or four exquisitely fringed, black couture gowns in a recess of gold mosaic - towards the staircase; or to veer left, into the black-and-white "Cheap and Chic" zone, and loll on the red velvet rococo chaise-longue as you contemplate the printed shirts and floral jeans sitting perfectly folded in under-lit cabinets.

My advice, having been there on a sleepy Monday morning (the phone rang, and one of the as- sistants desisted from folding uncrumpled, pounds 85 T-shirts to shout, in exaggerated English, "Action!") is to head for the stairs. It's a spiral staircase, in plaster, and while the designers were looking for a definitive Moschino look that they might recreate in all the high-spending capitals of the world, they also wanted to do something here that spoke "London" in volumes. Peter Kent came up with the idea of rain - but was stuck for a specific conceit. One night, he was in a restaurant mulling over the problem with his colleagues: he went to the loo, looked at the plug chain in the hand basin and, recognising in- spiration, ripped it off and stuffed it in his jacket.

He had pocketed the solution. He has hung the two-storey, 35ft convex wall of the stairwell with hundreds of chains of ball-bearings, of exactly the sort that suspends your bath plug. They make a silver curtain, which the air-conditioning gently wafts, and onto which signature Moschino motifs, such as a smiley face, a peace symbol, a heart and a question mark, are projected. In the centre of the stairwell hangs a chandelier made of long, thin Perspex tubes, complete with air-bubbles; below, set into the dark marble floor, sits a silver "puddle". At the foot and top of the brass-tipped stairs, an umbrella hangs casually hooked over the banisters. But instead of provoking cheesy renditions of "Singin' in the Rain", this staircase makes you suddenly, belatedly, aware of the sheer sexiness of London's constant drizzle.

Upstairs is formal wear; and the colours get correspondingly grander. Instead of black-and-white floor mosaics, here they are gold-and-stone. The changing rooms are swathed in pale turquoise silk, whereas downstairs you change in padded white cells (should you be trying on a straitjacket?). A glass wall etched with Moschino's spoof of the By Royal Appointment insignia divides the space: either side satin dresses hang like waterfalls. An uncountable number of Moschino trademarks have been worked into the design - the gold rails are punctuated by question marks, a wall is broken by an aqua recess framed by cut-out curtains (above), the changing rooms have huge brass buttons for handles - but the clothes get their say. For the amount that's going on in here, the feel is surprisingly uncluttered.

Moschino occupies every level of the 8,500sqft property: on the second, third and fourth floors are a women's showroom, a men's showroom, an in- house latte bar, and the offices of the British arm of what, since Franco's death, is an expanding international business. For the first time, Moschino has a central-London premises from which to sell its collections - to big retail buyers such as Harvey Nichols, as well as to individual couture clients.

The lift was put in by the previous developers. It's a little temperamental, but is almost the best bit of the store. Its tiny space (three was a squash) is walled with bulging blocks of Smartie-red leather, topped off with a rococo dado rail. Only serious buyers will get to use what is quite possibly the smallest, smartest, most outrageous VIP suite in London.

! Moschino, 28-29 Conduit St, W1 (0171 318 0500).