On a recent winter afternoon I was invited to tea with the Dirand clan in matriarch Yveline Dirand’s unstuffy Paris apartment near the Arc de Triomphe. We spoke about family history, photography, chocolate, and the clan’s patriarch, revered interiors photographer Jacques Dirand, who died of cancer in 2009, at 72. He was adept at capturing the essence of style that personified homes belonging to global tastemakers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Axel Vervoordt, and Yves Saint Laurent.
“Revealing the essential, excluding the unnecessary” is how the couple’s son Adrien, who is 38 and also a photographer, described his father’s eye. It’s an outlook on the world that was also inherited by Adrien’s brother, Joseph. “Color, shapes, those are just words. What’s important is the story,” said Joseph, 43, an architect and interior designer who’s become one of the most sought-after names in French design, with projects ranging from a flagship for Balmain to Deco-inspired silver-and gold-plated brass accessories for Puiforcat and interiors for a new, 77-room Four Seasons Hotel in Miami. This year Joseph will publish a monograph with Rizzoli and begin work on a restaurant-and-marketplace concept for chef Joël Robuchon in New York.
The sons’ creativity was no accident. Jacques and Yveline, a retired publicist for the French fashion label Cacharel, raised them in an environment constantly brimming with imagination and artistry. “It was very alive,” said Joseph about the home’s communal vibe. A revolving cast of creators and intellectuals often stopped by, including ceramicist Pierre Culot, industrial designer Marc Berthier, art critic Rosalind Krauss (the boys’ aunt), and fashion designer Junko Shimada—who hired a young Joseph to design her boutique.
Jacques, who was self-taught, photographed musicians, Parisian nightlife, and socialites using a 35 mm Nikon camera. In 1976 the British furnishings brand Habitat hired him to shoot its catalogs in France. He had also begun shooting residential projects, which would eventually include some by the exalted French designer Andrée Putman. Jacques serendipitously met her in the late ’70s, when he stopped to help her change a flat tire in the Côte d’Azur. Their friendship led to one of his first feature assignments and ultimately to the Paris home of Lagerfeld, which Jacques shot in 1982. Soon his work appeared in French Elle Décor and The World of Interiors. After House & Garden excerpted Jacques’s photos from the 1982 book French Style, his career in America took off.
Joseph’s career didn’t start off as promisingly. “In the beginning my work was plain,” he said of his early interiors, which involved a lot of black-and-white and minimalism. “I was playing with the visual effects that photography uses.” In 1999, after earning an architecture degree and completing an internship with architect Jean Nouvel, Joseph opened his own studio. His architectural palette embraces artisanal techniques, incorporating finishes from velvet to plaster.
The projects—boutiques, hotels, residential properties, restaurants—routinely have a backstory attached to their scheme. “I love surprise, exploring, the research, which takes a lot,” Joseph said. “It’s part of my design process.” For the restaurant Loulou, which opened at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris last year, he referenced the eclectic Turin home of Italian artist Carlo Mollino. His studio created 200 renderings before arriving at the perfect mise-en-scène for the 130-indoor-seat, two-story eatery, which features Eero Saarinen Tulip chairs and ’70s velvet banquettes.
As for Adrien: “I wanted to become a photographer because architect was already taken,” he said with a smile, nodding to his brother. He studied cinema before apprenticing for ten years as Jacques’s assistant. He now supervises his father’s archives and partners with Joseph on magazine features as well as commissions to shoot some of his projects.
Both sons recalled a cherished photo depicting their father at age 16 on a bicycle in front of Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut, in Ronchamp, France. “My father had a very strong personality,” said Joseph about his dad’s struggles with clients. “Everything was complicated, with a little bit of suffering and stress and fight. But he always ended up with a poetic translation of what he had seen.”