April 27, 2013

Franglais Spoken Here: Joseph Dirand Translates for Chloé’s Paris Flagship

“You have to believe this space was meant for me,” Joseph Dirand says of the Chloé flagship on Paris’s hip and happening Rue Saint-Honoré. When the French fashion house asked Joseph Dirand Architecture to work on the project, he already knew the site well, having previously been approached by two other brands interested in installing a boutique there. He also has serious fashion credentials.Recent commissions include boutiques for Balmain in Paris, Rick Owens in London, Emilio Pucci in New York, and Alexander Wang in Beijing.

Viewed from another perspective, however, the association between the 39-year-old Dirand and the 60-year-old Chloé might appear unlikely. One of France’s most sought-after designers at the moment, he made a name for himself not with fashion but with two Mexican hotels, the Habita MTY in Monterrey and Distrito Capital in Mexico City. And he’s the first to admit that Chloé’s DNA is at odds with his aesthetic. While the label is associated with romance and feminity, he’s known for spare, graphic interiors generally rendered in just black and white. “Black,” he declared recently, “is everything.” Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Chloé creative director Clare Waight Keller from being drawn to what she calls his “high sense of details” and “expertise in hospitality.”

The latter, she believed, would help him create a better shopping experience in a very inhospitable space. Or spaces. Dirand was confronted with the conundrum of two small buildings connected solely at ground level. one building fronted the street; the other was on a courtyard behind. “I couldn’t make it function,” he admits. So he came up with a radical proposal: Bulldoze the back building, and construct a new one. “I turned up one day at Chloé and said, ‘it has to be demolished,’” he recounts with a laugh. “Everyone looked at me as if I were from Mars. They had just paid a fortune for the place!”

Dirand prevailed. The new structure—complete with terraces and balconies overlooking the courtyard, where he planted a bamboo-leaf oak tree—now joins the existing one on both levels. Also linked internally, at the front and rear, by a pair of marble staircases with sculpted bronze and brass banisters, the shopping levels are seamless. Circulation is fluid, allowing customers to walk through the 5,100-square-foot store without retracing their steps. “It’s like taking a stroll,” he says. Shoes and accessories are displayed on the ground level, ready-to-wear on the more intimate second level.

Dirand’s design incorporates Anglo allusions, a nod to the fact that four of the last five artistic directors at Chloé have been British—including not only Waight Keller but also Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo. The succession of relatively small rooms, with painted coffered ceilings, is meant to evoke a London town house, and upholstery is velvet in a deep mustard yellow, for Dirand “a typical english color.” The rest of the subtle palette was inspired by old Chloé ad campaigns, which “generally feature blond women wearing free-flowing outfits in beige or white,” he says.

Another design reference was the 1970’s, seen by many as the label’s golden age. (Karl Lagerfeld was at the creative helm, and clients included Jacqueline Onassis and Maria Callas.) Much of the custom furniture pays homage to designers of that time, such as Gabriella Crespi and Maria Pergay. Mixed in is a smattering of vintage pieces actually from that era: Gio Ponti sconces, an Oscar Niemeyer lounge chair, etc.

Dirand opted for freestanding display elements, “as if someone moved into an apartment and put all their furniture up against the walls,” he offers. He’s particularly enamored of the large vitrines containing slablike brass shelves that appear to float inside. Equally arresting are the full-length mirror triptychs. “They bring to mind an elegant woman in front of a looking glass at a couture house, with the couturier down on his knees making alterations,” he says. “There’s something very luxurious about that image.”

Luxury is a word that could certainly be applied to the Chloé store as a whole. “It’s sophisticated but quite effortless,” he continues. The combination of the architect’s rigor with the label’s freer spirit is a winning one—his habitual precision tempered by delicate colors and an emphasis on rounded forms. For Waight Keller, the result “perfectly echoes the softness and femininity of the Chloé woman.” The boutique’s palette also provided a catalyst for some of her designs, for example a limited edition, in ginger and gold tones, of the brand’s Alice bag. Meanwhile, Dirand was amused to discover, after choosing the deep mustard yellow for the velvet, that a number of outfits in a recent collection were almost exactly the same color. “You know things are really coherent,” he says, “when inspiration starts to flow in both directions.”

Project Team:
Ponctuelle: Lighting Consultant. Aedis Ingénierie: Structural Engineer. Synchrone Technologies: MEP. Marbrerie Coquard: Stone Work. S.O.E. Stuc et Staff: Plaster Work. La Forge de Style: Metal Work. Pyrenea Contract: Upholstery Workshop.

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