Joseph Dirand

say hi to_ Joseph Dirand

Starting with his first client, a family friend, at the age of 20 while still completing his studies - Joseph Dirand has now become one of, if not the most, recognised of French interior architects of our generation. From international hospitality projects to translating some of the world’s most renowned fashion houses vision through his architectural lens to the development of a virgin island (yes that's right!) - Joseph has a hand, and his vision, in every corner of the international interior architecture landscape.

He was heavily influenced from an early age, joining his father, an architectural photographer, to shoots and across many different inspiring interiors. Growing up in a creative family led to his path in architecture, which he was always damn sure of, and his brother to being an architectural photographer himself.

We get the chance to join Joseph Dirand at home to chat getting first clients, maintaining one’s creative voice throughout commercial projects and the dream project of developing a sustainable virgin island in the Bahamas - from scratch.


June 6, 2019

length of read
10 minutes

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

Photo_ Manuel Obadia-Wills



| Kristen | Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?

| Joseph | I’m Joseph Dirand and I feel like I’ve been an architect since I was born. My father was an architectural and interior photographer, and because of him I grew up surrounded by this environment. I was raised in this culture because of his work; I never wanted to be a firefighter, even as a child. Other kids wanted to be firefighters, but I always knew architecture was meant for me. My father’s passion for architecture was passed on to me, so I learned it at an early age. I learned how to be aware and sensitive to all of the possible styles and all of the imaginable combinations. 


| Kristen | What is a typical work day for you?

| Joseph | Honestly, they’re not very typical. Most of the time they are spent running around. In general, I work with my team during the day, which is composed of 25 architects and interior designers. We are always working on very different categories of projects. The projects keep getting bigger and bigger, but we also still work on mid-sized projects.

I like to try to concentrate on projects working in the hospitality industry because it’s a field that connects many people, through hotels and restaurants. I focus on trying to select a lot of projects in this direction.

Usually during the day I’m working with my team and then also working on conception. At the early stages of any project I mainly work alone on the conception, normally at home, at night on this coffee table.

| Kristen | It’s the same for me, during the day we go to the office or meetings but at night I turn the phone off and work.

| Joseph | You need to be quiet and in your own inner world, to have no distractions from others, and you need total concentration. I can spend hours looking at the same drawing, and the drawing is only one part of the process of conception. You spend this important time alone, creating a virtual world in your mind and then you start to sketch.

I develop a lot on transparent paper and then I go back to the office the next morning and share those drawings with my team. This is typical for the early stage of the project, which gets everything started.

I work on every project, if not every day at least a few times a week. For each project the work is a mix between things I am conceiving at home and things that my team is developing. It’s great because a lot of these people have been working with me for many years, and I have built a team of passionate creatives. We are always trying to reinvent ourselves as much as we can. 

It’s easy to repeat things, so of course sometimes you recognize elements or material, or some kind of signature, but I prefer the idea of having a signature which is moving. Because I am young in terms of art, my sensibility in design has always been more minimal. Minimal art, minimal architecture…I think this is probably because during my childhood the information I received about design was too much for a such a young person to comprehend, it would have been hard to develop my own taste because the spectrum was so wide. So the more minimal things were what resonated with me. 

say hi to_ Joseph Dirand by Manuel Obadia Wills

Also our home was very minimal; my mother was a fashion designer and we had a lot of friends who connected us to many tastes and styles. I think the only way for me to build something from where I began was to start with a white blank page. All of my work from the early years was extremely minimal and conceptual. 

I started out very minimal, but I began to integrate some classical elements because I needed to branch out for other projects and programs. For example, Balmain - when I did a concept for Balmain my intention was not just to treat the subject like a designer, to bring my ego and my design, or something that was only my style… It was more a question of what should Balmain be today, considering all of the history of the brand. For me there was definitely an idea that resonated - French Haute Couture: a brand that was important during the golden age of fashion, very cinematographic, very sophisticated.


Balmain Paris

So I tried to bring the brand back to that idea, I wanted to give a similar feeling that Balmain stores have always given. Actually, it was more resonant of the early ages of Balmain because this particular store was originally the apartment of Pierre Balmain when he first moved and started to set up his studio. The space had a lot of history but over time everything had of course been demolished. My work was not to create a new identity of Balmain, but was to bring back the original Balmain. In the store I mixed this very classical environment with a square column that had mirrors on every side in the center of the room. 

say hi to_ Joseph Dirand by Manuel Obadia Wills
say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Beginning

| Kristen | So you first got interested in architecture from your father, how did that influence you at the beginning - did you go to work with him? 

| Joseph | During my studies in architecture I had a little bit of free time, so the first year or two I assisted my father on some photoshoots. It was very interesting to discover new places, but also spend some time with my father. I really enjoyed seeing how he explored architecture and how he found the feeling of capturing a space. With architecture, the photography of the space is the essence of everything - where you decide to stop and frame is what you consider the essence of the place, and it can be transmitted with one detail sometimes. 

| Kristen | I heard that you use cinematography a lot in kind of your references.

say hi to_ Joseph Dirand by Manuel Obadia Wills

| Joseph | I use cinema sometimes but I consider my projects to be lived as if they were cinema. My projects are something you actively live, it is not just something you look at. It is not an art piece, it is a living experience. I am very focused on this aspect of it. I like to highlight the relationships and interactions of people in a place, especially in a hospitality project like a restaurant, a hotel. How do you want people to connect? How do you want the mood and the light and the atmosphere to be conveyed? These are the questions I ask myself and to try to answer with my designs.

When my work is finished the project is born, and the hope is that the project lasts for a very long time. It is very frustrating, especially in fashion, for example, that sometimes people are there simply to create a nice frame for something, but things change a lot and people are revolutionising the thing according to the designer, to his strategy and his direction. Then the brand changes, and the store changes, then they demolish the shop and move two stores away and start the process again. That is a bit frustrating for me because the entire experience does not last long. 

I want to try to focus on developing things that last because they usually take a lot of effort, and after the creation is finished I feel a stronger connection with what I did, which is my life. I dedicate my entire life to this and it is very engaged - I don’t really care for the idea of things disappearing if they are substantial or valuable.


Alexander Wang Shop


| Kristen | So you studied, what were your first jobs when you first got into architecture? I read that you had started your own firm quite young.

| Joseph | I had the opportunity to get my first commission at the beginning of my second year of school. I was around 20 years old.

| Kristen | How did you start that? Did you approach clients?

| Joseph | No, no no. I think starting out is always the same for everyone. It begins with friends and family; you don’t exist as a name yet, so the only people you have are your friends and your family. My first commission was actually two things: my first apartment of course, and the other was a store for a Japanese fashion designer in Paris. The store was called Junk and it was on rue Etienne Marcel, and it was pretty big at that time, probably 300 square meters. I remember I had done something a bit industrial, but very design oriented at the same time, really detailed, and not really comparable to things I am doing today. I was very immature, I had no experience, I knew that I liked some styles, but I didn’t have my own taste or personality yet. You can tell from the pictures that I was already trying to do something special as a 20 year old with no real design individuality yet . After that store I did small apartments for friends.

Yeah and then you know, little by little, after some small publications some things started to grow. I did a couple of small apartments and, through friends or through more publications I began to get a little bigger, older. During my studies I did a couple of projects that really helped me grow, and it was very important because if I hadn’t had those opportunities, I would probably not have been able to start my studio three years later when I finished my degree. So that little start, doing small things first, that is what created the possibility for me to build my studio with some commission right after completing university.


“I choose to live from passion, and that has given me the freedom to select the people I surround myself with, whether it be clients or other architects. This freedom has probably always been what I value the most. “


| Kristen | At the beginning it is always like that, you get your first job. if it is something that you love, you’re like ‘Oh wow, they’re going to pay me to do that!’. Then you are willing to work for not much.

| Joseph | Yeah at the beginning you don’t care. There is no real financial worry, you’re only focused on pure passion while you grow and learn. I had a very slow and precise evolution during those 20 years. There is no one big project or event that created me, it’s a combination of all of the little experiences. But eventually things evolved to exactly what I always wanted them to be. I choose to live from passion, and that has given me the freedom to select the people I surround myself with, whether it be clients or other architects. This freedom has probably always been what I value the most. 

| Kristen | I think this is really the biggest dream in the world when you choose, when you don’t have to make as many compromises. I mean you choose the clients you want to work with so even if it’s something very different, you get to make that choice. That you get to put your own touch to it. 

| Joseph | It’s good because I need constraints. I’m not someone who is trying to invent; I am not an inventor. I am someone who really takes inspiration from everything that surrounds me. I’m more like a witness; I love to watch people, I love to analyse things, I am sensitive to everything, smell, taste, lights. I put a lot of effort into paying attention to these things, but I also need to try to create new emotions through these constraints, which is a space, which is a client, which is a location, which can even be financial. 

Sometimes architects or interior designers can be artistically constrained. There is a duality in these two expressions - the expression of freedom and at the same time an element of limitation because of the constraints that are present. You can let the constraints frustrate you, or you can try to play with them and maybe they can give more consistency to your choices.


| Kristen | So what is something that you learned when you first started your studio that you maybe didn’t expect? For instance when I first started the magazine, I quit most of my freelance work and I wish I would have known that i probablyyyy should have saved more money….. (laughs)

| Joseph | I consider life a miracle, and it’s surreal, especially now that I’m going back, looking at the whole picture through this book about my work over the years. It’s crazy to think that if only one thing had been different, one choice would have changed my whole career. If I would have done this store, or these things or these publications or met these friends or went to this country…it is crazy how everything is so connected. All of the choices we make are connected, and life is the result of these choices and connections. You can’t regret your choices, because everything is so connected. The choices you made led you to where you are. There are moments of course when I regret some choices, but not at the same level of happiness I feel for having made others.

I remember the first guy who gave me an opportunity to work with a little more freedom in terms of budget, to explore and to push the limit a little bit further. This probably allowed me to evolve to a certain point, and to get other commissions afterwards. The Balmain store was an important project for me because it created a certain method of incorporating different elements to produce a specific style, but also because it taught me how to build a story. In fact, it was primarily story telling that resulted in me getting commissions afterwards to create and tell other stories.


Obumex, Paris

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Business

| Kristen | Was there a moment that made you go out and start your own firm? What made you decide to start your own rather than working for someone else.

| Joseph | There has never been another option for me. I think I grew up knowing there was only working for myself; I saw my mother working at home and I saw my father traveling or working for himself. I grew up in an artistic surrounding, seeing all of these creatives who worked only for themselves. My parents and their friends were designers, artists, photographers, writers, all working for themselves. I didn’t really see myself in a position where I was working for someone else. Working for myself, creating, was the only reason for my existence.

Also to mention one very important thing - my brother is the same way. We had a great admiration for my father because he was amazingly talented, but he was complicated in terms of emotional relationships at the same time. He had a very strong character, and was not someone who could easily express his feelings. It was kind of difficult for his children, who really tried to get the attention of their father, and who wanted to feel that he was interested in what we were doing at that time.

Not only did we want his attention as children but we eventually grew to desire his respect for our work. This took a lot of time. I think the first time I felt like my father respected my architectural work was about two weeks before he died. It’s good because at least I finally got it! I’m sure that my father loved me, I don’t doubt that at all. Of course, as a child, I wanted more attention from him, but as an adult I understood the respect he showed for my work, considering all of the things he had seen and done in his life. It took time and practice before I could deliver something that he truly considered as good as the best things he had seen during his life, and now I understand that is normal.

| Joseph | My brother has been taking all of the photos of my work for the past 20 years, and considering that my father sort of hesitated between being an architect and a photographer, now to have had one son become an architect and the other a photographer is a bit interesting.

| Kristen | That must kind of be his dream come true though to see his sons follow his influence.


| Kristen | So what I had read, you have done a lot of boutiques with luxury brands. I don’t know how it works in architecture but with magazines and photographers, if a photographer shoots with a certain magazine maybe another magazine will not want to shoot with that photographer. Is it similar with clients? Is it a thin line like if you work with this client then you can not work with another client? 

| Joseph | I think you can have more than one. It mght be a bit more limited in the world of fashion but it’s also a question of timing. The reason why I have been able to collaborate with so many different brands, and also brands which are owned by different groups, is because there is an idea of competition between them. Starting out I wanted to work with brands that were really different from each other, in order to avoid repeating ideas. But after the Balmain store, I had some opportunities to work with a couple of different brands at the same time. I signed confidentiality agreements, so i couldn’t tell the brands which other brands I was simultaneously working with. Finally they all realised that I was working on a couple of projects, all very close in terms of timing but also all very different projects. When it’s that type of situation that the clients don’t care so much about me being ‘owned’ by this group or that group.

The politics aren’t important to me, but I focus on the message. I’m here to create interior design and décor that tells a narrative of a brand. I want people to see my work and think ‘Oh, this is very Chloé, Pucci, etc.’ This is the idea that allowed us to continue to get more and more commissions - translating a brand into an interior so that it was immediately recognized in a subtle way by people. This can be challenging for some brands, but if they are consistent then the challenge can be met. If it is just for opportunity’s sake on both sides, it is not interesting.


| Kristen | That is what i was going to ask, how do you choose what type of projects or clients you want to work with? I guess going forward it is kind of a challenge or how you can add something special rather than just doing a job.

| Joseph |  The first  thing I consider is how the location inspires me, also the brand and what image comes to my mind. If I have to work in a specific place, for a specific project, it might not go as well as possible. I am very, very selective. I know that can sound a bit pretentious, but it is reality.

If I make a wrong choice and I have to work in a space that I am not very inspired by, my project will not be as good as the projects which truly inspire me, course. It’s a long process, sometimes I spend a few years working on one thing. If it takes so much time and effort I should love the process and the end result.

| Kristen | Also to be proud that it is your best work.

| Joseph |  I’m selective because after 20 years of experience I’m able to recognize the projects that could wind up being a loss of time and effort for me, which would frustrate me. I think I have a creative mind, which can be full of doubts and questions. To avoid doubting myself I try to find a subject that makes me feel totally comfortable, not in a way that is easy, but in a way that requires a lot of creativity. I think more like comfort in the difficulty or pushing my creativity. 

say hi to_ Joseph Dirand by Manuel Obadia Wills

| Kristen | What was the hardest part about opening your own business?

| Joseph | The beginning it was a nightmare because I was doing everything myself. I was dealing with money, which I hate, and dealing with all of the dark sides of running a business. Thankfully it was small, so it wasn’t too difficult. 

| Kristen | But it still takes away from what you do, your creativity.

| Joseph | It is very difficult to start on your own at such a young age because at first there are only problems. You aren’t mature enough to face all of the problems and everything stresses you out. Now it’s rare that I panic about anything because we can find a solution for everything. I don’t want projects to be run under stress, I much prefer when things are run with ambition and vision. I try to work with visionaries and I try to be a visionary along with them. I want to try to invent something that adds more to what already exists, not invent something that doesn’t come from somewhere.

In a hospitality space, like hotel or restaurant for example, I want the atmosphere to be better for the guests than it was before. Everything from the living room, the level of comfort, the feeling, the service - I can’t do a restaurant without comfortable chairs, the light needs to be perfect, ideally the food needs to be good, and I even want to music to be great. Every element counts. If you have good décor but bad food, the whole project is bad. That’s why it is important to collaborate with the right people so that it all comes together perfectly.  



say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Work

| Kristen | So what is a dream project of yours? 

| Joseph | I’m already working on it!

| Kristen | Is it confidential….?

| Joseph | No, no - I can talk about it! It’s a miracle. It is for the owner of the Four Seasons. So, I’m doing the Four Seasons but I am also doing another building right next to it where I am designing the actual building. It’s going to be my first big building that I design from scratch. The tower, the interior design, the furniture, the entire hospitality experience- I get to do it all.

| Kristen | Wow 360!

| Joseph | Yes, 360 from very large scale, to extremely small scale. So that is amazing, but it’s not the ultimate dream. Well, it WAS my dream project until I got a another one with the same client. I’m developing a whole island in the Virgin Islands.

| Kristen | I HEARD ABOUT THIS SECRET PROJECT!!! I heard some rumors!

| Joseph | So there is a very incredible story about this island, which was owned by Carlos Lehder, who was the right hand man of Pablo Escobar during his prime. It is one of the most beautiful virgin islands in paradise, called Exuma Island. The water is pure, clear, and turquoise because there a really low tide surrounding the shore, but it becomes very deep only a couple of meters away. It’s not a round island but it’s long, about 8km, with lagoons. 


| Kristen | …. and you have the whole island?

| Joseph | I have the whole island. I mean, the idea is that I am going to develop this island with a partner very slowly. We want  to create a perfect paradise for others but also for ourselves, so we need to be detailed and selective during the whole process. We don’t want to fill this beautiful place with concrete and hotels or houses, which would probably create more profit, but would destroy our dream of enhancing one of the last rare Virgin Island paradises. 

We will start with building one hotel which will have 25 little homes of one and two bedrooms. After this we we will develop larger villas of 4-10 bedrooms. The goal is to design two houses per year, al unique masterpieces that have been designed precisely and without creating waste or pollution so that we can respect and preserve the land as much as possible of course. There is a lot of open space but we will create shelter that allows the guest to feel private, hidden, not exposed to other people. I hope to be able to sell and rent the homes after they are finished. 

| Kristen | Oh so it will not be a hotel?

| Joseph | There will be a hotel but there will also be houses which can be sold in the future. We will design and create them, and then we will select the people who we would like to buy them- ideally. It’s especially great because it truly is a virgin island, so it’s sort of an Eden. It’s a bank page for me during a period of my life where I have the maturity and respect to put a lot of energy into something and produce consistency. This will be a project that I’ll be working on throughout the rest of my life. The next 15 years for me will be the most dynamic yet, but after I build this island I will continue to have new projects in new lands. 

| Kristen | and of course you will have a house there, I guess?

| Joseph | I am already looking into purchasing a small piece of the land to start building a small house, and I have already planned the same for some others in the future. It really is a paradise that I am creating for others, but it’s a personal paradise for me as well. 

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| Kristen | What is the DNA of Paris?

| Joseph | I think it truly is ‘la ville lumière’ (city of light). Paris has a very specific light. We are surrounded by classical and historical influences, the city is rich with culture and heritage. Paris has evolved while simultaneously remaining preserved for a long time, which is nice. I think this defines Paris, the classic part of it. There is something about Parisians which is good, too, a good and a bad side like there is in every culture. We don’t really care so much about money, which can be either good or bad.

| Kristen | It is the opposite to New York! That is also why I’ve stayed here seven years.

| Joseph | Yeah, no one is really impressed by you being the best or the most successful, in fact it might be the opposite. If you are too boastful it can create some jealousy, or negative feelings. That’s not a great thing, but it can also be the reason people prefer to establish more ‘real’ relationships, making a lot of their choices based on love or pleasure, rather than on business. There is more to France, but this is definitely a part of it. 

| Joseph | Paris has also been the capital of lifestyle for a long time - food, fashion, architecture. Maybe more interior design rather than architecture because we there aren’t too many contemporary architects in the city, but there are a lot of interior designers. If you think about he art-deco movement, if you think of the modernists like Le Corbusier, Royère and Prouvé, there were a lot of really strong signature styles during the 20th century in France. Every decade we had a sort of revolution of strong style. I think that’s what Paris is all about, creating a reflection of an inner world that is transmitted into a lifestyle with a lot of freedom.

French people love to spend time together, but now with Facebook and things like that the relationships between people are changing a little. There is more connection with the rest of the world. 

| Kristen | How would you describe the current design landscape in France or the current trends in architecture? Are there any common threads or do you think there are a lot of people doing their own thing?

| Joseph | In hospitality you see a lot of projects that are kind of vintage, a little bit of what has been tried in London and New York before has come to Paris as well. They are more ‘décor’ for a younger crowd; it is very dynamic, it is very good in Paris to see that cool restaurants and cool hotels are starting to appear because I think we lost a little of the power to do that for a long period of time. A lot of talented French creatives are working worldwide, so the relationship with other cultures brings an experience back to our city. But it is eclectic and we want it to be eclectic as well. We don’t want a world where everything is the same. 

Sometimes there are trends, but I don’t like trends. As soon as something is trendy, I feel as though the end of the trend has already come. I love the idea of timelessness, and I try to put that into my work as much as possible. I want to maintain a connection to the past, even if the project is demolished and recreated from scratch, and then evolves over time. This connection to the past creates a respect for the project that is deeper than ‘this is décor that we can get rid of and start from scratch.’ If I come into a place and there is something already existing that is beautiful, of course I will keep it. 


Thank You Joseph!


See more from France…

Thierry Kauffmann

say hi to_ Thierry Kauffmann

We spend a lot of time speaking to and featuring the designers, photographers and creatives themselves but what about a look from the perspective of the ones who make their deals and manage their careers? As any creative knows, when your skills lie in creating - then skills are oftentimes lacking in the business and financial department. I think most of us dream to have someone there to guide us, mentor us, negotiate our contracts and let’s face it - bring us jobs and new clients. The Artist’s Management industry in Paris is generally still a bit old school, conservative and notoriously difficult for a young or emerging creative to snag an agent for themselves. One man pioneering the creative management industry, with a portfolio full of diverse creatives from feather artists, illustrators, colorists, photographers, set designers and more - is Thierry Kauffman. Starting out in the photo agent industry he was one day strolling along a small cobbled street in Paris, where he saw a ‘FOR RENT’ sign and that when he knew it was time to do his own thing.

Thierry chats to us about how the artist’s management industry works, how he is able to take artists with seemingly non-commercial fine art and artisan skills and pitch them to high end clients such as Hermès, Chanel, Isabel Marant - to collaborate on projects in a way that these brands could never have even imagined. From feather inspired detailing on limited edition Guerlain perfume bottles to abstract, kinetic window displays which rather look like a scene from a contemporary art museum to a fashion retail location to a botany artist trying their hand at living collectible furniture - we see how Thierry guides and helps his team of creatives develop their careers creatively and commercially.


March 05, 2019

length of read
13 minutes

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

Photo_ CG Watkins



| Kristen | Can you please introduce yourself?

| Thierry | I'm a photographer and artist's agent. I support and advocate the work of different people, I make the connections between the clients and the artists for project proposals while always staying true to the work and vision of my artists.

| Kristen | Could you tell us about a typical work day for you?

| Thierry | I start the day at 9am with my morning coffee while I check in on news from the artists that I represent, I follow the productions, plan and attend meetings which can take more time than you imagine!

Knowing in which direction to go with the artists, knowing who to contact, which clients would suit and which types of projects would correspond to the aesthetic of the artists are all important aspects to the job. On the other hand it is equally about proposing our artist's work to those who have interesting and or unusual projects, using new tools or creative methods to expand and develop their portoflios in new directions.

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Beginning

| Kristen | Did you study photography?

| Thierry | Yes, I studied photography and also spent a long time as a photographer's assistant. I worked with a quite well known photographer who worked a lot, who was relatively famous and who did exhibitions and published a number of books. Working with him, I had the chance to participate in all aspects of creating a book, layout design, how to put together an exhibition. At one point I was this photographer's assistant, studio manager as well as handling all book and exhibition organisation and production.

Working with demanding photographers I was often told that their agent's weren't working fast enough. Thus I eventually took over many of the agent's tasks, more and more work on the productions.

At the end of a great day this photographer came to me and said “But why aren't you an agent also?”. 

So I started by becoming her agent, which I ended up really enjoying.

| Kristen | How did you learn everything that you needed to know about being an agent? Through another agent?

| Thierry | No, during 10 or 12 years I had seen the work of the photographer I was assisting's agent and after that I left and got started. I took 'le book' and I went to see advertising agencies and clients. I had started like this and then I stopped working with the photographer I had been assisting.

I was all alone and then there she [ the agency ] was. An agency of 10 to 12 photographers; I didn't know exactly know how to manage the entire team while simultaneously juggling all of the different projects. I met Yannick Morisot, one of the four or five people responsible for creating the actual profession of ‘the photo agent’. He was the agent of Jean-Baptiste Mondino over 20 years, Nick Knight and Stephane Sednaoui’s agent and of all of the biggest photographers from twenty years ago who I went on to work with for the next year.


| Kristen | How long were you an agent for before you launched your own agency?

| Thierry | I would say, about three or four years.

| Kristen | How did you decide to quit your job to open your own agency? It must be scary when it comes time to make that decision.

| Thierry | I really wanted to be able to choose the artists who I would be representing and working for. To be able to say, “I love your work, I would love work with you”, and above all, that the artists choose me. 

The profession of being an agent is quite being in a couple, but in a way it is the same in that you must trust one another. In addition, these are people who have quite a specific style of work which is not always overtly commercial, so you have to keep the link to the photographer's aesthetic and creative integrity.

That was the moment to do something. To choose and to be chosen.

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

Working in France

Photo_ CG Watkins

| Kristen | France is a notoriously difficult country to start your own business, What was the most difficult?

| Thierry | I had a lot of luck.

Either way I didn't have a choice really, it was necessary that I did something, that I opened my office. I stopped by this street one day, I saw ' for rent' and I told myself “this is it”.

As for the team, I had photographer, Frank Hülsbömer, three to five artists and then it all went quickly.

After that I needed to go to the bank and tell them “Its me, I need a loan, believe in me!”. I knocked on wood but it always went well without any problems, there has always been people who trusted me and made things in life easier for me. 

| Kristen | How many artists did you start with?

| Thierry | Frank Hülsbömer was the first photographer. Diego Alborghetti, who I represented for a long time also. In general, I work with people for a long time. It was mostly young photographers who take a some time to develop and advance with.

When a young photographer arrives they think everything is easy. It's my job to explain that there are clients involved, the editorial is much more complicated than they think, a lot of requests going on behind the scenes and the photographer can not simply always just do what he wants.

All of this takes a bit of time to put into place, to be fully understood – that is the reason it's necessary to work together for a long period of time.


Photographer_ Frank Hülsbömer


| Kristen | How did you earn the trust to have artists sign with you at the beginning? It must be a bit scary for them if they don't yet know that you will be able to find them jobs. Or did you already know some of them beforehand?

| Thierry | Not really. They were young, had a lot of meetings and then one day someone approaches them and tells them they are interested and believe in their work. It was at a time where there were a lot of new agencies springing up, so it was relatively easy.

It is also important to make them understand that we love their images but at the same time we don’t have the same emotions or feelings towards them as the artist may have. We have to construct a portfolio book with their images which in the end, may not actually be close to reflecting the artists actual feelings toward these images or their work.

The clients, or agencies - when they see an agent, must be able to quickly understand what the photographer is able to do, what potential they have. They don’t have time to chat with the photographer, the meeting or introduction to the work must be quick and precise. The photographer has to be able to show a concise breadth of their work, their perspective or style, what he is able to propose to the client.


| Kristen | When you launched your agency, did you already have contacts or did you contact prospective clients people spontaneously?

| Thierry | No exactly, the advantage to having worked with different people is that once I went out on my own I was able to call all of them up and let them know I started my own agency. 

| Kristen | I have a friend who is trying to open an agency and I told her that she should start by working as an agent. She’s extremely talented but she I think it was important for her to start to construct a network.

| Thierry | Yes its necessary to really meet people there. When you work in advertising agencies or art buying, you are over solicited all the time. It is much easier to get in touch with them if you already know them. That’s the case for most agents. They’ve all worked in other offices or did jobs with the same network/genre of clients. It takes time to know who does what, to have everyone’s e-mail addresses.


| Kristen | What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to open their own business in France?

| Thierry | Everything is easy when you really want to do something, you will find a way to make it work. After, it is necessary (and maybe it is in my personality) to truly love what you do, show everyone you feel close to and admire your work. I think that its more complicated for someone who is a little bit introverted.

One thing that is really important for a photo agent, and explains why I work alone, is that if I’m working with an artist, we speak directly - not through an assistant. I was an assistant and have a lot of respect for them who do this work but with these things, I consider them to be sensitive information or topics in an ongoing relationship between agent and artist. The photographer should deal directly with the person who will represent and show their work.


say hi to_ Thierry Kauffmann - Aude Bourgine

say hi to_ Thierry Kauffmann - Aude Bourgine

Artist_ Aude Bourgine

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Business

| Kristen | Was it difficult to get your first client?

| Thierry | Not that difficult. I believe that I opened my agency in the month of June and the first contract arrived in the month of September. With a new photographer who I personally knew. It all came quickly after that.

| Kristen | What is the key to keeping good relationships with clients and to building long term partnerships?

| Thierry | To trust, to exchange, to have a glass of white wine? I wouldn't say that you are to be 'friends' but you have to have trust in one another. If I say or suggest something, I know it is taken into consideration. It's an exchange and if the artist has something that I should know in order to develop his work, then I keep that in mind. There are the artists who are based in Paris who I can talk extensively with over a long lunch. With those who live abroad, it would take a longer time to build that relationship for example. From the beginning it is difficult because they do not know the way that things operate in Paris - the agencies, the clients. Sometimes when the artists come to visit Paris, I feel as though they do not understand why things don't move fast and take off right away.

| Kristen | Do you prefer to discover artists at the beginning of their career and guide them, to help form them or to represent artists more developed in their careers?

| Thierry | I prefer to work with someone whose work has never been seen. This has mostly been the case so far. It's much more exciting for everyone to work with people that no one knows. 

When I started to work with Janaïna Milheiro, who works with feathers, I was told - “but what are you going to do with someone who makes things out of feathers?!”. We didn't even know. Yet we went on to work with Chanel, Guerlain, Hermès; right away. I love those who do something very specific; I'm not drawn to artists who do everything per-se.

say hi to_ Janaina Milheiro - Thierry Kauffmann

“She was a textile designer so her work was truly destined for haute couture, embroidery. That domain didn't interest me but I told her to apply that background to imagine things in volume, to make installations for window displays. She then got it right away and that's how we got started.

I have the impression of bringing them to a place that they had not yet considered or thought of before.”


| Kristen | For say hi to_ for instance, we may find a very talented object designer who we go on to collaborate with on a series of objects together. Although I may find their work incredible, I still guide them with my knowledge of the market and demographic. That is how we can guide and help develop certain designers in a specific direction.

| Thierry | Yes that is exactly what it is about. I think I am beginning to really understand the luxury industry which I mostly work in. They have the same needs, problems and codes. Once one understands those things we can play with the artist to create things together. 

When I went to see Janaïna she did not understand what I wanted. I said, “reflect on the installations and the possibilities in that realm.” She was a textile designer so her work was truly destined for haute couture, embroidery. That domain didn't interest me but I told her to apply that background to imagine things in volume, to make installations for window displays. She then got it right away and that's how we got started. I have the impression of bringing them to a place that they had not yet considered or thought of before. That brings me satisfaction!


say hi to_ Julien Colombier - Thierry Kauffmann


| Kristen | Do you define or choose the type of project that they should look for? How does it work.

| Thierry | Yes I know the brands, I know how they communicate what they do for events, so I go and propose people that the brands can grasp. That doesn't mean that a project will come immediately out of that but somewhere the client will understand what our artist could do for their brand. That's what I was saying earlier, the brands want to work with artists who are able to work on projects they commission. I don't work with artists who simply take their canvas' and hang them in the store window. I love fine art but that's not what we are looking for. It's necessary to be able to work according to the project, it's commissioned work, new creations that were specifically made for these brands. I love this. There are some artists who do not want to work like this, who prefer to be in a gallery and for some others, they enjoy it and it goes in the same direction as their work.

| Kristen | I think that it brings something new to work like that. I understand if certain artists don't want to be too commercial but I think that if they translate the style they have in their art to this type of installation, it could become something super interesting.


| Thierry | Of course and anyways, if the client respects the work of the artist and if it's a nice brand... why not. Afterwards, obviously some requests come in from very mainstream brands asking to make collaborations and we would have to say no. You can't work with Chanel, Hermès and Cartier and then work with an uninteresting brand. It's not a question of money, we know that it wouldn't work so we don't do those jobs.

| Kristen | The artists that you represent are very creative yet able to translate their work commercially, that is why I find your selection of artists so interesting. There are tons of photo agencies but I think that yours is one of the most interesting.

Is it easier or more difficult to find commercial projects for these types of artists? Most agents have very commercial artists, you fill a specific niche.

| Thierry | Yes of course and I want to stay like that, I want to do interesting and strange projects. There are PR agencies who call me and tell me they're looking for someone doing a specific type of work, they saw my site and none of the artists I represent necessarily correspond to what they need but they ask if I know artists who do. I see this as a really great thing because if I am showing very interesting profiles and artists, I know that I'm going to receive calls about it. I on the other hand, am a little bit difficult to decide on working with someone – it takes a bit of time.


Photo_ CG Watkins


| Kristen | Do you find the artists that you want to work with or do they contact you to show you their portfolio?

| Thierry | Both, Janaïna and Najla El Zein, I found by accident on the internet and thats how that happened. There are some people who come to see me too.


say hi to_ Najla El Zein - Thierry Kauffmann


| Kristen | Do you have advice for photographers or creatives who are looking for an agent? I think that a lot of artists or photographers don't know when they should start looking for an agent. I know in New York at least, they say “Don't worry, the agents will find you.”

| Thierry | We also have to take into consideration that the agent is someone who can give advice. For a long time I would see everyone, because I think that it's my work to advise in a way. In general, I at least take a look at the website. If the person takes photos of weddings, it's not interesting for me. But if it is someone who I see potential in, I think it is my job as an agent to meet with them and advise them and say “This is good, but be careful because such and such is not working”.

I'm not talking about technique, just about the approach, so that they understand that there are some challenges ahead. It's necessary to do this with young artists, it's really important. 

Little by little, if the artist then takes in the advice he is told, if they apply it in their work then suddenly someone is going to say to them, “I think it's great, let's work together!”

| Kristen | Do you have any advice for those who want to open their own agency?

| Thierry | For someone who wants to open an agency, it's the same. I think that it's necessary to know a little bit of the domain, the industry. It doesn't mean you have to have tons of friends in the industry but it is important to have contacts. 

No one is going to be waiting for you so you have to push the doors open and show something different. 


say hi to_ Julien Colombier

| Kristen | Do you handle a lot of public relations and marketing or do your artist's take care of that?

| Thierry | You have to do everything at the same time.

| Kristen | Do you use social media at all?

| Thierry | Yes, you have to communicate with all of that; we send out newsletters, sent out updates on the artist's portfolio websites and things like that.

After that, the artists all have their own Facebook pages. As for me, Facebook isn't an interesting tool. The agencies website is a window display, I have a bit of a hard time getting myself to see it as a necessity to put the same media on other networks. I prefer to concentrate on the website and the artists can communicate in other ways. Everything is online so we always see what everyone is doing on their own social networking profiles.

say hi to_ Sarah Illenberger - Thierry Kauffmann

say hi to_ Sarah Illenberger - Thierry Kauffmann


| Kristen | Is It problematic at all for an agent to have artists from all different creative backgrounds and with different talents or to be known for one specific style?

| Thierry | There are agencies who have 10 photographers whose work all looks the same and one is unable to differentiate between all of the artists represented. I don't see any interest to do that. I prefer to have a project and to send the right person to do the job.

| Kristen | I also imagine that it is difficult to have trust in the agency  if all of their artists are all the same. For instance, what would make you suggest on photographer over another for a specific project.

| Thierry | Yea and it's the same for the clients when they go on the website and the photographers are the same, how do they choose one photographer over another. So this is a world I don't know, and something I'm not interested in knowing, it doesn't interest me. I honestly have a hard time understanding how one could show interchangeable artists.


say hi to_ Janaina Milheiro - Thierry Kauffmann


| Kristen | What is the most exciting job that you got for one of your artists?

| Thierry | Just today I got a job in from Guerlain. I had a project with them for my artist Janaïna. She did something for them using feathers, limited edition. For three years we had worked on it en it finally was released recently. It was the first meeting.

| Kristen | It's a job very specific and different.

| Thierry | Yes exactly. We had a good budget and everyone was content. It all takes some time and something the project can not advance until we know exactly what the brand would like to do. This project was the for the launch of a new perfume and for brands, it can be years of swimming upstream to launch a perfume. 


say hi to_ Janaina Milheiro


| Kristen | For a job of this type, how does it work to organise it as it is a very specific project. Guerlain saw the work of Janaïna and had the idea?

| Thierry | Yes and we had a meeting and right away we had someone who presented us to the director of marketing who saw her work and said “I have something for you”. This is how it happened.

All projects in this genre, for large luxury brands or the very specific (here, we have a very limited edition, its a perfume bottle for a collector, who would be able to find this version in Harrods or on the Champs Élysees but not in Sephora for instance)

| Kristen | So you have to find them?

| Thierry | Yes of course, that's the reason that it takes some time. You can not meet the assistant of the assistant of the assistant.


say hi to_ Duy Anh Nhan Duc


| Kristen | What would you like to do next? A big project, an idea, something you you've been wanting to do or something you would like to see one of your artists do?

| Thierry | What I've had in my mind is to do exhibitions, to show all things. It would be necessary to find the way to present this in a way that corresponds to the team and which corresponds to me. Its a gallery, but not like current galleries that exist for the moment. It's the project that I have in mind for the moment, but I have a bit more research to do, to develop it, to find a way to do it in the best way. 

It's not just renting a gallery and putting people in it. Thats easy. One could do everything and that doesn't interest me. I don't have collectors and this is not my way to do it. There are so many already on rue de Turenne, you rent a space, you hang work and once it's over you do it all over again. I'm not interested in doing that, I'm not a gallery.

| Kristen | It's more of a way to show the artists but like a platform – more of a showcase?

| Thierry | I don't know yet, it will be more than showing canvas... But everything I've seen up until now hasn't resonated or corresponded with me. I haven't found the the right thing yet, I have to continue searching.


say hi to_ Arnold Goron

say hi to_

Thank You Thierry!


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