British-born designer Peter Copping became artistic director of Nina Ricci in 2009 after spending over 10 years as the studio director at Louis Vuitton. He is currently working with Parisian architect Joseph Dirand on redesigning Nina Ricci stores worldwide. Dirand, the son of the late photographer Jacques Dirand, has worked on interior architecture for numerous international fashion brands, and in 2010 his studio won Wallpaper’s best new hotel award for the Habita Monterrey in Mexico.
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PC: I’ve been in Paris for 18 years, but it’s never been one of my desires to have my own company or work for myself. I’ve watched friends set up on their own, and I see that it’s a slog and when you make mistakes they’re costly, whereas at a big house they can sustain the costs.
JD: I started at home with a computer. After a while somebody who’s seen something that has been published contacts you ...
PC: Architecture is a lot more permanent than fashion so you do these projects and they’re a real legacy for you.
JD: In fashion the people that launch their own brands successfully are very few. The costs of developing a brand and retail space are really risky. Still, there are many projects that I’ve done that don’t exist anymore. One of my first jobs was for Junko Shimada for a shop that is no longer there.
PC: How funny for an architect to experience this.
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JD: It’s absolutely the opposite of my way of thinking: this “destroy and restart”. It’s strange how, in the 1960s and 1970s, so much design wasn’t about recreation but almost like starting from zero. We hated the past so much and creativity was all about ignoring what came before. I like to work with what needs to be kept.
PC: Well, in fashion you do have the designers’ egos. If somebody comes in to replace somebody then they automatically say “all of this that came before ... we don’t want it”, which I don’t think is necessarily a good thing. The Nina Ricci stores weren’t my concept, but I didn’t want to just come in and change it immediately. I’m very excited that things have come to this point where we have to re-look at what Nina Ricci is going to be in terms of stores.
JD: When we worked on the store I asked you to select images, music and movies because I know the heritage of Nina Ricci, but the second step is to know you. We ended up with the same feeling about the brand.
PC: In one of our first conversations I mentioned [interior designer] Jean-Michel Frank and you said, “oh but there are so many people who are much better than him” and that was immediately exciting for me. When you’re working with somebody on a restaurant or a hotel, do you have that sort of exchange?
JD: It’s very important to build a creative team that’s not just full of people from your office.
PC: I’ve always been a big fan of your father Jacques Dirand’s work, he was very good at getting to the soul of a place.
JD: We really have to do something with his archives. He worked for many years on World Of Interiors. He photographed the houses of Yves Saint Laurent, all the architects and artists that are dead today, so many countries, so many homes, it’s crazy. He spent the last five years of his life archiving everything.
PC: When you’re working in design you never really switch off because you’re observing and searching for influences, it’s a pleasure. Still, I think it’s very important to take time out. I work solidly during the week, which leaves weekends free.
JD: I love to work on a Sunday. When I start a project I put on music, I open all my books, I draw and in a couple of hours things have arrived and that’s such a great excitement.
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PC: Are you alone when you start?
JD: Yes, and when my team show up on a Monday I’m so excited. I like them to correct me. Critics are important, my team aren’t in the room just to say yes.
PC: In fashion the critics are the press and it’s a funny thing in some ways: why do you have to have your work validated by these people? It’s part of the process, but that’s changed of late as anyone can give their opinion via a blog.
JD: I like what’s happening with the blogs, but at the same time I know that their opinions can be quite brutal.
PC: With journalists at least they have a knowledge of fashion, so they can put things into context whereas the bloggers are reacting with gut instinct: they either like it or they don’t.
JD: You have to be strong to get over it.