One of the world's most prestigious fashion design awards has been given not to a fashion designer but to an architect. Makes sense, says Nonie Niesewand.

First shrinks. Then holistic healers and personal trainers. Now architects are the indispensable designer accessory for intensely competitive fashion designers. By getting an architect to design their shops they give themselves the edge world-wide. Shops are no longer fitted. They are kitted out with a made to measure look by an equally famous household name of an architect who wears their label (at least, to pick up the brief).

Take a small corner of the global gold card shopping. In New Bond Street, every fashionable shop front and interior is designed to match the clothes within. Sporty NYPD Blue style at DKNY opposite the grown -up black and cream Donna Karan collections lshop (both designed by Peter Marino); minimalist, pared and pale Portland stone at Jigsaw by John Pawson, who also designed the Calvin Klein flagship store in Madison Avenue in York stone; elegant rationalism from David Chipperfield at Joseph; faux animaux as the leopard changes its spots at Moschino near the Westbury Hotel by Hosker More and Kent; Nicole Farhi sleekly tailored and set in stone and concrete by Rashid Din.

It's as congested with architectural makeovers as the Monopoly Board before hotels replace the houses. Yet three more fashion stores will open in New Bond Street this year, all of them planned by American architects. In February, Vuitton gets a facelift from the ubiquitous Mr Marino; in the autumn, Gucci will strut its new stuff from Bill Sofield and in November fusty old tartanned-out Ralph Lauren will move into the massive 45,000 square feet flagship HQ at Number one New Bond Street where the Nat West used to stand. Claiming that "there's an incredible energy in London right now which makes it such a natural place to create our largest international store", Ralph Lauren announced that he will be importing into energetic old London an American architect for the project, Thierry Despoint.

Like all shopping dramas, the movement began in America. Peter Marino, the internationally acclaimed architect, was the catalyst. He has designed stores for Valentino, Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Fendi and Donna Karan. At the end of last year, he was awarded the Masters of Design award from the Fashion Group International at the 14th annual presentation, together with citations for John Galliano of Dior and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel. It's the first time fashion has given the award to an architect.

To work for so many egos, architect Peter Marino has become adept at spotting their idiosyncratic style. He is a genius at conveying in hard materials glamour, techno-chic, sexiness and snob appeal. All in concrete and stone, marble and glass, steel and gilt. Marino himself hates style labels and describes his architecture as being about materials and textures, touch and colour.

From his days in the Factory with Andy Warhol making cult movies and changing the wallpaper, he set up his design practice in 1978 for what his FGI fashion citation calls "a coterie of international trend-setters and taste arbiters". He employs 80 architects and 20 designers in five offices, including one in London. When he's not designing the new Barneys stores in New York, LA, Chicago and Tokyo, he's restoring historic landmark buildings such as St Patrick's Cathedral or the New York public library.

When Donna Karan launched DKNY's own shop in London, it was Peter Marino who placed a chunk of New York precinct straight into the very traditional New Bond Street. His aim was to bring a kind of energy, a feeling of freedom and being on the move into that claustrophobic lineup of shops. The only thing between the broadwalk and the back of the shop, with its backlit projection of yellow NY cabs, is glass. Its tall narrow glass-fronted facade stretches four storeys tall under a roller coaster glass roof. So the shop is bathed in daylight and, by night, a silvery white light. The new kid on the block is very American with stacked screens beaming out American TV. There's a selzer-styled bar for espresso drinkers, and enough free floorspace to roller-blade around.

On the other side of New Bond Street is his King Midas approach in Portland stone with a solid gold wall from atrium to basement as a background to the Donna Karan collections. You would never know that the same architect had designed the two stores. It's the difference between haute couture and ready-to-wear.

The skill is to interpret the look and keep evolving. Those temples to consumerism in marble and glass under lofty coffered ceilings are now considered very Eighties. Just as the Constance Spry flowers and Colefax & Fowler chintzes with which Sir Hardy Amies decorated his shop so long ago was considered classic Fifties. The new look for shop design is more energetic, less precious, certainly plainly tailored and having an intrinsic quality in the materials. Peter Marino goes so far as to call it "touchy feely".

Fashion designers' pursuit of what is now and of the moment can be profitable for architects. Take the Italian duo of Dolce & Gabbana whose company turns over pounds 400m a year and whose label is worn by every Hollywood celebrity. They did their own Milan stores as a mixture of red velvet, patchwork, and gilded throne chairs against white-walled sobriety. But that red and gold Sicilian look which was very Visconti is about to change. They have asked British architect David Chipperfield to design their stores this year.

Floors and wall surfaces won't change. He's more interested in finding way of displaying the clothes to highlight the internal structuring that hides behind their floaty lightness. All o which is a bit like his own architecture which has more complicated depths than its clean-cut good looks would suggest. Catch his coolly modern shop design at Joseph's menswear shop in Sloane Avenue and then take a look at British architect Sophie Hicks' makeover of the Paul Smith shop nearby.

Now even chain stores are giving themselves a designer label. Selfridges will reveal this November their re-design by the French interior designer and architect, Christian Liagre. His elegant French Modern Hotel Montalembert has long been the sanatorium for exhausted supermodels and fashion editors during the Paris fashion shows. His dark wood furniture with a hint of the old colonial about it, on poised little feet and upholstered in textured neutral naturals needs a whole collection to be edited around it.

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