Architecture rethinks the symbolic sites of haute couture. It happens in Paris, in the 8th arrondissement, where Dior – the charismatic maison that for 70 years has paid homage to the feminine universe – harbors the history and secrets of its success: the pret-à-porter atelier at 17 di Rue Jean Goujon and the haute couture workshop at 30 Avenue Montaigne, the historic headquarters.

Here Ivana Barbarito and Benjamin Bancel, two young but up-and-coming architects with their own studio since 2011, Barbarito Bancel Architects, based in Paris, have completely redesigned the work spaces of the Dior system. Here’s an exclusive interview for Interni.

How did your collaboration with Dior come about?
Benjamin Bancel: We began as local architects in Paris for the Dior boutique, but then we got more deeply involved, and in 2016 we were called in by Monsieur Toledano (president and CEO of Christian Dior Couture, ed) to remake the look of the Dior Flagship in Miami (an award-winning project, ed), after which we redesigned the two ateliers in Paris.

Were you surprised to have gained such a famous client in spite of your youth?
BB. Of course. But after all, the story of Dior has always been one of sweeping changes. Just consider the fact that today, for the first time, there is a woman, Maria Grazia Chiuri, in charge of the maison…

What did Dior request?
Ivana Barbarito. They wanted us to bring light and air to the workspaces, making them flexible, comfortable and above all modern. Not a simple project, because here they make garments and accessories of the highest quality, precious editions, limited, unique.
So we thought about a new organization for the ateliers, in tune with the needs of the people who work there: in particular, the skilled but also fearsome dressmakers, the famous ‘Petites Mains’ of Dior.
The mediation of Monsieur Toledano was a real plus for the project, along with that of Maurizio Liotti, director of the Prêt-à-Porter/Haute Couture/Men’s atelier, with whom we worked side by side for many months. A constant exchange of information, to better understand what had to be improved, and how.

For example?
B.B. Well, we learned about the right size of the tables, to facilitate the work of the dressmakers, how the light should fall on the fabric, without altering its color or volume… In short, we had to think of a series of solution that would improve the work, making it function, well organized and productive, also in ergonomic terms. We even invented lighting fixtures for the ‘cutting tables’ to reproduce the luminous and chromatic qualities of natural light.

Your project addressed two spaces: what were the differences?
I.B. The prêt-à-porter building is quite recent: it contains offices, a showroom and the workshops, where we reorganized the layout in terms of both spaces and furnishings.
The second project had to do with the heart of Dior, namely the hôtel particulier at 30 Avenue Montaigne, the legendary address that fascinated Monsieur Christian even before he became a fashion designer.
This place contains the famous haute couture ateliers, the sanctuary of Dior know-how, where handiwork rules, which stimulated us to find high-performance ergonomic and lighting solutions. but without overlooking painstaking attention to tasteful details. For example, wood now makes an appearance: we wanted it to run along the edges of the work tables, like embroidery, to create a precious, noble sign, almost a reference to history, the patina of time…
Furthermore, we also had to reorganize the spaces and circulation, because other buildings have joined the original facility as the company has grown. So it was necessary to revise the mapping, to create a hierarchy of rational and functional spaces.

Is there a fil rouge that connects the two projects?
B.B. Elegance, which is the key term of the Dior world, giving charisma to the maison, its inimitable, timeless spirit. We translated it into purity, balanced lines and forms, light, air.
I.B. The large white staircase comes to mind, which welcomes the guests to the prêt-à-porter atelier, a gentle, soft but also contemporary, pragmatic figure. A reminder of the Dior woman on the catwalk for the latest collections created by Maria Grazia Chiuri.

What was the most satisfying result of your work?
I.B. The satisfaction of the people. When we visited the sites, after the construction, we understood that we had hit the mark: the famous Dior dressmakers were happy, in love with their new workplace. Of course working on the ateliers of such a famous company was a daunting responsibility: but for us, it was like designing a new house for a big family. And I believe we have managed to get close to this fascinating world, to understand and interpret its secrets.

What is the strong point of your works?
B.B. Elegance, of course, as Dior teaches. We hope you can see it!…

Photos Alessandra Chemollo – Article Laura Ragazzola

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The central courtyard of the building that contains the prêt-à-porter atelier of Dior in Paris: the light enters abundantly through the glass ceiling, screened by pale tensile elements.
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Elevation sketch.
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The entrance with the staircase leading to the five levels of the building (the ateliers are on the second floor).
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The Dior haute couture atelier in Paris is located inside the historic headquarters, a hotel particulier at 30 Avenue Montaigne. The new project has redesigned the layout of the work spaces, bringing light and ventilation.
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The furnishings have also been very carefully selected and designed: the large tables for the dressmakers (photo by Slow Photo) have been revised to boost ergonomic performance.
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The large tables for the dressmakers (photo by Slow Photo) have been revised to boost ergonomic but without sacrificing aesthetics, as seen in the refined wooden border that ‘embroiders’ the edges of the tables.
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Project Sketches.