Philippe Starck: Contemporary Design’s Great Liberator
With a design vision that heralds the mantra “no one has to be genius, but everyone has to participate,” Philippe Starck is a man of many talents set out to improve the lives of as many people as possible. With a scope of work that spans across a wide range of industries from the design of grand architectural buildings to hotels, restaurants and even furniture, he melds his love of ideas with a determination to change the world through his great creations. Whether it’s everyday products like furniture and lemon squeezers or the grandeur of revolutionary mega-yachts, wind turbines or an electric car, it’s certain that Starck never stops short of pushing the limits. Forever changing the criteria of contemporary design.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 13th issue of ODDA Magazine.
To start, tell us a little bit about your childhood and your time at the École Camondo in Paris, explaining how you came to be a world renowned designer now at the forefront of modern design with a vast collection of projects that range from nightclub design as evidenced in Les Bains Douches in Paris and the Starck Club in Dallas, to hotel designs which include the Delano in Miami, Fl. and the Mondrian in Los Angeles, to product and architectural design including furniture for Cassina and Kartell.
There are people who keep a wonderful memory of their childhood. This is not exactly the same to me. For me, childhood was a black hole, shadow, despair, great solitude. I did not understand the school. I did not understand the system, I did not understand – and I still do not – society, nothing I was told. And as soon as I could walk, I fled school. Since I never went to school, I lived all my youth totally isolated. No contact with anyone. The police regularly brought be back to school when they sometimes found me hiding in the wood. And then I stopped to flee outside: I stopped coming out of my room. For years I did not get out of my room. I was 16 or 17 years old, I had no furniture, I slept on the floor in a corner. One day I figured it could not go on like that because I was nonetheless a healthy boy – my wife maintains that I am completely crazy and she is not totally wrong, but the bases are healthy enough. I said to myself ‘you have to get back to reality’. I realized that there was only one thing I knew: creativity, mostly from my father who was an aircraft inventor, engineer and manufacturer. To exist I decided to create, sadly not airplanes, but just small useless gifts to try to help my society. But it was not for me a pleasure, it was simply a necessity of survival.
In 1983 you were commissioned to refurbish the private apartments for the French President, François Mitterrand, in the Élysée Palace in Paris. Explain how this helped shape your career.
This was a very interesting experience – and an honor – because Francois Mitterrand wanted it to be very simple, and it also established a precedent in the design world because this project symbolized the recognition of design by institutions.
Tell us about your time with Pierre Cardin as the art director of his furniture division.
At that time, Pierre Cardin was the modern man, the visionary. As soon as I managed to have a meeting with him – it took a year or so – I made a great and very elegant presentation. I had spent days and days testing it: it was very complex. I put my presentation on the table, and he was stunned. He had never seen anything like that in his life. He told me ‘you are hired’ and I found myself, at 17 or 18 years old, at the art direction of the furniture for Pierre Cardin. But alas, very quickly, I realized that we were not at all on the same wavelength. He was an elitist capitalist, and I am a communist: I wanted to give people a million furniture at one euro and he wanted to make one piece of furniture at one million euro. We could not get along so I left.
But luckily I was able to develop my concept of democratic design that is to give quality pieces at accessible prices to the largest number of people, to lower the price while increasing the quality. With editors such as Kartell, I managed to take out two zeros off the price of a chair – the Louis Ghost family and the Generic collection are some of the best examples. When you divide the price by 100, you have radically changed the concept.
Several years ago you frowned at the idea of going digital even calling it “sick” at one point. Despite this, you embraced the online culture and made your move to Facebook and Instagram anyhow. Explain how this online real estate has helped you set a new precedence with your audience or “sentimental tribe?” What new things have you learned? Do you have any regrets?
I have no sentimental relation with digital world because before everything it is just a tool. We use digital world because it is today part of the voice to communicate and when you want to speak, you want all the range of the notes of your voice to express your ideas. Then I try to communicate my vision to my sentimental and cultural tribe.
In 2016, you launched a new line of fragrances under your new perfume label, Starck Paris, named “Peau de Soie,” “Peau de Pierre” and “Peau d’Ailleurs.” Tell us about your inspiration for the project and then explain how “scent” has inspired your creativity since childhood.
When I was a boy, my mother had a perfume shop and I used to spend a lot of time there immersed in a world of fragrances, smells and loud classical music. This is where it all began. Since then, all my life I have obsessed with both music and smells. Odours, like music, have always been structural elements to my life, and my life – probably due to my mental sickness called creativity. Thus it is only logical that my olfactive and musical memories unconsciously infiltrate all my creations. Music and smells are mental territories. Starck Paris is not at all related to the world of design or architecture. It is related to my mental personal and emotional architecture. I have always had this idea of fighting materiality, which is a paradox because I have been producing materiality. Nevertheless, I think materiality is vulgar. Only the project is elegant, only the dream is elegant. By creating perfume, I could eventually reach this dream of immateriality. So for all these reasons this project is very dear to me. Probably one of the closest to what I am.
Peau de Soie is exploring the women’s inner mystery. What we love in woman is their mystery. Men will never understand woman and that is the beauty of it. I wanted to create a mental space echoing the mystery of woman that may be her male part. Peau de Soie looks like a female fragrance but inside is a shadow, an attractive center.
Peau de Pierre evoks the ambivalent masculinity. I truly believe that our (men) way of thinking directly comes from genuine female part: we are born by woman, we are raised by them and we live with them for most of us. So with Daphné we worked on a male perfume that looks like a male perfume but with in its core a female mystery. It is a very complex perfume. Some will love it and some will hate it, but it is my vision of men. Always with a mystery as it is impossible to decipher what is inside.
Peau d’Ailleurs was probably the most difficult for me, as I wanted to reflect where I live, in my soft bubble of creativity, which is not fun but fertile of surprises: Elsewhere. The vision I shared with Annick Ménardo was ‘What can be the smell of emptiness? What is the smell of speed? What is the smell of something that we absolutely do not know’. Annick proposed me an elsewhere that somehow landed on this earth that is our world and it is even more interesting.
It is interesting to see that the female perfume was made by a man, Dominique Ropion, that the male one was done by a woman, Daphné Bugey and that Peau d’Ailleurs was made by a UFO, Annick Ménardo.
Your first collection of eco-friendly, prefabricated homes called P.A.T.H. short for prefabricated Accessible Technological Homes, launched at the end of 2012. Described on the starkwithriko.com site as “a unique turnkey living solution for all, opening new ways towards a different future by combining high technology, comfort, timeless design, and respect for the environment into a single solution,” explain how this remarkable project with 34 customizable models to choose from got its start.
Building your own house can be extremely dangerous : we know when it starts, but not necessarily when it ends, or how much it will cost. With P.A.T.H. and thanks to the industrial production of prefabricated components, in 6 months and for a defined budget, ‘anyone’ can access a quality and timeless style for their homes. Manufacturing works as Lego components : prefabricated elements are constructed in Riko factories then assembled on the construction site. Thus industrial production combines impeccable technological quality at a controlled costs and timings.It is no only about ecology nor only about design. I was trying to solve the paradox of offering to the largest number of people the most elegant and qualitative home integrating the highest technological and ecological innovations, to the right price.
Describing yourself as “subversive, ethical, ecological, political, fun: this is how I see my duty as a creator.” Give us some insight into your creative mind. What are your sources of inspiration? What’s your creative process?
Whether it is a toothpick, a chair or a revolutionary boat, it is the same philosophy: to think of the profit of the final user, and to start from the highest vision, that shall leads to an ethics that leads to a concept and may give birth to a project. It is the same process for all my work. Actually, I was never concerned by aesthetic or any cultural trend, but now, I am even more radical. I try to give real answers to our questions; I think now the answers have to go less through materiality.
On your website, starck.com, you have a comprehensive resource for learning about your work featuring articles, design photos, quotes and other company information. Curiously, at the top of your page you have a saying, “we do not need to kill to survive.” Explain why this is the first thing that you have chosen to relate to your viewers on the site, describing how it influences your creative process and what is means for you personally.
There are several different homepages we can land onto. They all carry different quotes that, I believe, express the fundamental values society needs today. Of course, people can disagree, but this is my vision. It was very important for me to use this digital platform as a tool to convey broader messages to my tribe, to raise awareness and tell our story, the story of the evolution of humanity.
Now for something a bit more about you as an individual outside of the world of art and design. How do you like to spend your free time? Where do you like to go? What music do you listen to? What are your favorite social causes?
Unfortunately, I don’t have any free time. With my wife Jasmine, we never go on vacations, we never go out for dinners, we do not watch television. We live and work in our middles of nowhere, in front of the sea or in the forest, with no water and no electricity, but always surrounded by music. Because of this mental sickness called creativity I can say that I have a ‘non life’ as I am always projecting myself in the future, in projects. The present does not exist, but when I die I hope one can say ‘He was an honest and hard-working explorer’.
Lastly, give us three (3) words of wisdom that best illustrate you as an artist and shed some light on what we can expect to see from you in the future.
First I don’t consider myself as an artist, any more than a designer or an architect for that matter. I am a human, a mutant, belonging to the big story of evolution who only try to deserve to exist by serving my community, my friends and family the best I can – which is not much because I don’t save live, only sometimes I make myself less useless. Today, what matters is not creating more matter but improving the one that already exists. The new modern parameters are dematerialization, longevity and honesty.
As a creative director, marketing manager and fashion editor, Kyle has
developed brand identities and creative strategies for a variety of
businesses and written on a variety of fashion topics for ODDA and Lab
A-4 magazines. With his background in advertising, he helps his
clients understand complex ideas, motivates them to action and
cooperates with media outlets to carry out successful brand
strategies. But the madness doesn’t stop there. He is also a recipient
of numerous international industry awards hosted by AVA, MarCom,
Hermes and GDUSA, and a judge of several international awards
competitions where he competently utilizes his passion for meaningful,
quality design to give constructive criticism and insightful design
advice to his peers.
As a creative director, marketing manager and fashion editor, Kyle has developed brand identities and creative strategies for a variety of businesses and written on a variety of fashion topics for ODDA and Lab A-4 magazines. With his background in advertising, he helps his clients understand complex ideas, motivates them to action and cooperates with media outlets to carry out successful brand strategies. But the madness doesn’t stop there. He is also a recipient of numerous international industry awards hosted by AVA, MarCom, Hermes and GDUSA, and a judge of several international awards competitions where he competently utilizes his passion for meaningful, quality design to give constructive criticism and insightful design advice to his peers.
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