by Jerry ElengicalMay 10, 2022
Challenging himself and pushing the boundaries of design is Philippe Starck's constant endeavour, and, as he tells me, "I have no problem doing anything… I always have a lot of fun." Now with his recent projects he has even breached the final frontier: space! The French visionary was the artistic director of Virgin Galactic and has now fashioned the microgravity space habitation module for crew quarters of the world’s first commercial space station. Approved by NASA, these privately developed modules by Axiom Space are to be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024.
The multifaceted inventor shot to fame during the 1980s when he refurbished President (François) Mitterand's private apartments at the Elysee Palace in 1983 followed by the Costes Cafe in 1984. But it was really his sinuous lemon squeezer Juicy Salif for Alessi in 1988 that established him. Inspired by the shape of a squid, the iconic metal reamer's biomorphism is striking. Having sold over 6,00,000 pieces, it is a part of the permanent collections at MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the V&A in London.
Over the last four decades Starck has gone on to design buildings, hotels, prefabricated homes, yachts, wind turbines, furniture, bathroom accessories, kitchen gadgets, office stationery, eyewear, perfumes; producing prolifically across so many genres, mediums and materials, that perhaps it may be easier to enumerate what he hasn’t attempted!
What sets this indefatigable creator apart from others of his ilk is his unwavering commitment to democratic design. "A long time ago, when I started designing, I felt design was very elitist. There were beautiful but very expensive pieces, made only for the few. I felt this was unfair," he explains. "According to me, if you have the honour of being visited by a good idea, your duty is to share it with as many people as possible. So I came up with the concept of democratic design. Creation, whatever form it takes, must improve the lives of as many people as possible. It is about trying to provide great design, in the best quality at affordable prices," the French designer continued.
While agreeing to this interview, Starck made but one condition: not to delve much into the past. "For the future is too exciting.” And so, we bring you some brilliant glimpses into the world according to Starck -
Sonal Shah: The increasing impact of global warming and the recent pandemic has made us rethink current scenarios. What creative services are critical in managing the climate crisis and how? What should designers stop doing, and start doing instead?
Philippe Starck: There are different scenarios because there are different speeds, different timetables. The short term is high-tech ecology, social ecology, political ecology. The long-term is about dematerialisation. My attitude is to try to do less and make it honest, ecological, political, and rebellious. The new generation that is arriving has to stop producing as much as we do today because it is irresponsible. Fortunately, young designers are rediscovering the values of the designers before, returning to ethical values and communism. Enzo Mari (industrial designer, 1932-2020), has been replaced by ecology.
We have to continue in this direction. Today, for example, we make beautiful works in 3D and 2D in plywood. In the next two years or so we should convert to making everything in organic plastic. We will continue to make things thanks to the help of artificial intelligence (AI).
Sonal: In 2019 you launched the A.I. chair created using artificial intelligence. As AI and new technological advances play a bigger role in all areas of life, could it make designers redundant? How do you think it will impact the creative community, particularly designers?
Philippe: In my opinion, the only way we can continue to evolve is to realise the dream we have of ourselves, the dream of the new human - the marriage of artificial intelligence and all the services it will provide. We have never seen an increase in intelligence do harm. We have seen evil come only from stupidity and lack of intelligence.
This A.I. chair is the end product of working on design with artificial intelligence for over two years. I believe the A.I. chair is the beginning of a great freedom that human revolutions can no longer offer. I think AI is the only tool that can rebalance the world.
I am convinced that the designer of today will disappear but remain more in the shape of our dietician or coach, since the only product left will be our body.
Sonal: You have been associated with the Millenium Hotels since 2016 - and now they have created the first virtual hotel for the Metaverse. How can mankind walk the path between minimalism and Metaverse?
Philippe: I am far from being a digital native - I don't have a computer and use tracing paper and a pen - but to me the Metaverse is the continuity of minimalism since it is no longer about producing in the real world but in a virtual world.
Sonal: You say your territory is "elsewhere and nowhere". Tell us more about where you are headed in the future.
Philippe: I designed the modules for the new habitation Axiom international commercial space station, which will be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) and will be launched in 2024. We are working on an astronaut training camp complex with Orbit. It's a small city that will train all the astronauts of the new space companies. So we are space specialists and space is the future.
Space interests me greatly. People who have been in space have a different perspective. It's about how to create a new life without gravity, upside down. Everything is a new challenge.
At the same time, space is not our only escape, so it is imperative to be ecological and environmentally conscious, and my work on earth is ecological.
Sonal: What keeps you inspired?
Philippe: I have no inspiration as I am slightly Asperger's so I live in total autarky. Every morning I get up with a big problem to solve, I get naked with my tracing paper, in an effort to find answers. The only thing that is not an inspiration, but which interests me, is the beautiful story of our evolution. Four hundred million years ago, we were amoebas, we became fish, we became frogs, we became monkeys, and we became what we are. This evolutionary story is incredible. It is enough to give you all the ideas you need to create. The brain is infinite.
Sonal: How do you organise your work schedule? Do you work on one project at a time or several simultaneously?
Philippe: I have always worked alone, in the middle of nowhere. I don't live in the city, I don't go to the movies, I don't go to cocktail parties or dinners, I don't talk to anyone. With my wife and younger daughter, we live in the middle of the sea, in the middle of the mud, in the middle of the dune. And I work alone on a small table. This is the daily routine of my life, 14 hours a day or more. And I work on an average of 200-250 big projects at the same time per year.
Sonal: Your typical work day? Is there a difference between the studio workday and the location workday?
Philippe: I have two types of days. A good day is when I am alone with my wife and my daughter in a cabin, in the middle of nowhere, without electricity, without water, without cars. And from 6 in the morning, I am alone in front of my desk, dreaming of my projects.
A bad day is when I am travelling, talking all day, in meetings or interviews. Because talking is not my job. And as (Jacques) Lacan said: "Le dit Tue”… I am just a professional dreamer.
Sonal: What is on your drawing board currently?
Philippe: Recent projects include an “eternal” chair for Dior; a symbolic and powerful jewellery line for Baccarat; highly technological and ecological intelligent materials and furniture for Kartell; the elegant and cultured hotel Brach in Paris; the timeless Lily of the Valley resort on the French Riviera; and the space habitation module for the Axiom Commercial Space Station on the International Space Station and I am working on an astronauts training complex in USA.
Sonal: What is your best place to think?
Philippe: I need to be nowhere in order to create without any influence. I just need nature: can be the sea, the sand, the sun and elsewhere. The place where I live is the perfect place as I am in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the forest, in the dunes, with my wife Jasmine.
Sonal: Your most useful tool?
Philippe: A notebook with tracing sheets and my A4 Japanese Criterion.
Sonal: Three pieces of advice to the next generation of designers?
Philippe: Be yourself. Never listen to what people say. Don't read magazines. Don't watch television. Don't spend your day in front of your screen. Be alone with yourself. Stay in bed if you want to. Dream, and put your dream to work for your community, to help your society, to help your civilisation. And then do it. Never listen to those who tell you otherwise.
Sonal: A motto you live by?
Philippe: Raise your eyes as high and as far as possible.
Did you know? Philippe Starck…
- uses only tracing paper to work on
- does not have a computer or email address
- named his company Ubik based on the sci-fi novel by Philip Dick
- lives the life of a "modern monk", preferring to be in bed by 10.30 pm
- became a vegetarian after his son Oa was born
- created the Juicy Salif, which is "not merely meant to squeeze lemons, but start a conversation"
- turned 73 on January 18, 2022