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November 6, 2010

Even high-design dressing rooms, rare as they are, rarely function or inspire as the shop floor can. That may be changing, though.

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In most shops, fitting-room design seems to be an afterthought. Who doesn’t feel suddenly vulnerable and appear newly overweight in those cramped cubicles? Fitting rooms are usually too small and too few; if the lighting isn’t too dim, it’s too bright. There aren’t enough hooks, and service lags since the paucity of rooms creates a queue of cranky customers. And those “dressing” rooms without mirrors that force you to trundle out in socked feet (with the suspicion that you may look like Ronald McDonald in this blouse) just so the salesperson can give you the hard sell? Ugh.

Fitting rooms can also suffer from being overdesigned. A case in point is that gem of haute shopping: the Prada Epicenter. Rem Koolhaas installed transparent glass fitting rooms that went opaque at the touch of a floor button, but, under the weight of shoppers’ curiosity (and stamping feet), they repeatedly malfunctioned.

Other new technologies offer promising results, even if a few kinks still need to be worked out. Cisco developed a virtual dressing room that lets shoppers use gesture control to scroll through ensembles and “try” them on. Responsive mirrors use multiple cameras to track motion and then replay images in high-def video on a screen beside the mirror. Guests can view themselves garment-by-garment or check out the second skirt while trying on the fifth. Whatever direction the user turns, the earlier image will follow (albeit with a lag worthy of a bad Hong Kong overdub). Intelligent fitting rooms can even suggest alternatives to the garments the user has chosen to try on, or stream images to a pal’s phone to elicit friendly feedback.

One high-design solution may point the way forward, though. In Jil Sander’s SoHo flagship store, the dressing rooms anchor the shop, instead of being tucked away. Designed by Dutch artist Germaine Kruip with creative director Raf Simons, two unabashedly analog mirrored boxes allow the user to see in 360 degrees. They can be moved on small casters and even turned inside-out; to enter, clients grasp a corner and basically wrap themselves up in the mirror. “They are changing rooms,” Kruip says, “literally.”

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