It’s in Mayfair and it’s a shop of the most exquisite fragrances, such the one chosen by Kate Middleton for her wedding day. But as soon as you step into it - taking your shoes off as it’s part of the experience - you step into a sort of grotto, covered in a grey sort of clay; a number of glass bottles hang upside down from the ceiling, each one of them sealed with a cork cap. The bottles look empty, and they are indeed. No label, no name, nothing. Still, you are here to buy a fragrance, but there is none on sight.
The bottles contain air, the idea of the perfume, the smell. You open one, inhale and get absorbed by the feeling. There is no way to spray a drop on your wrist, or of asking the shopkeeper about ingredients. Everything is reduced to sensations and the way the shop is built and decorated is part of the philosophy.
‘I wanted to go back to classical architecture’ architect Antonino Cardillo explains. “During the Renaissance all archeological sites were underground. Now archeologists have brought back nearly everything, but before 19th century if you wanted to enjoy classical architecture you had to go undergroud. The Domus Aurea in Rome is an example of that. I wanted to retrieve that concept and I’ve built a grotto’.
What is this material you have used all over the shop, fram walls to ceilingo
‘It’s pozzolana, a kind of ash of volcanic origin, widely used in architecture in the past. I’ve brought the pozzolana to London for this project. I mean, literally. I’ve used one ton of pozzolana brought form Naples, mixed with grassello di calce (a simple and common mixture used in architecture until 19th century) and used it for this shop. It’s a great material to use: beautiful, it gives a tactile sensation and it’s incredibly cheap: 25kg cost 1 euro (£ 0.71) and on top of everything it’s very natural, organic and easy to use. What makes pozzolana a great material that can change a lot from project to project is the casting, the act of throwing it on the wall by the builder. Any builder has his own way of casting pozzolana and that makes the difference’.
You have used pozzolana before. It’s like your signature feature.
‘I’ve used it for the House of Dust, a private residence in Rome. But the texture is different from the one of Illuminum Shop and different from an art gallery I’ve designed in the San Lorenzo area, again in Rome, because different people have done the job using their own technique’.