In Conversation with Philippe Starck

You name it, ace French creator Philippe Starck has designed it—a toothbrush, sleek and light headphones, Steve Jobs’ yacht, and most recently, the Axiom space station’s crew quarter habitation module selected by NASA to attach its privately developed modules to the ISS. Even his sustainable collections with Andreu World were awarded with Best of NeoCon by the US Industry for its innovation and circular design approach. He is much like his evolved body of work—pragmatic, humorous and humble. Try calling him a genius, and he will nod politely but deflect the praise to concur, “I don’t think you can call a designer a genius.”

You couldn’t single out Philippe Starck in a crowd. Most days, he adorns an unflashy (and  extremely comfortable) deep grey attire. His gait is sure but unrushed as he keenly takes in all that surrounds him. He’s ordinary. Until he’s not.  

If you’re a design aficionado, you know him as a strong believer in altruism and the torch-bearer  of ‘democratic design.’ His design intent is never to fuel luxury but to optimise the necessities  and render them enjoyable. The Louis Ghost chair for Kartell and Juicy Salif Juicer for Alessi are some products that have etched him into history. He’s an enigma and, quite frankly, a hoot. But he doesn’t view himself in that light. 

Left to right: Juicy Salif Juicer for Alessi; The Louis Ghost Chair for Kartell

“I am a very serious person”, he proffered to Siddharth Peters, Love That Design Co-founder, at  Andreu World’s showroom in Chicago. They were around the Polina table, seated on the Olena  chairs, both Philippe Starck’s latest designs for Andreu World. Philippe Starck had just concluded his talk and NeoCon 2023 was in bustling swing. “All my life, I saw my father building aeroplanes. He was an aeronautical engineer, but he worked just like me. He used a  table, paper, and a pen to sketch. I then realised that if you want a plane to exist, you must invent it. If you don’t want it to crash, you must be rigorous and serious.”  

Starck was unable to inherit his father’s company because it was charred during the war. But he finds solace that his work as a ‘designer’ is similar to his father’s; he describes it as  his ‘only heritage.’ His sentimentality isn’t surprising. Emotions have always driven Philippe Starck. He often repeats, ‘I have only two jobs: to design and to love my wife.’ 

Left to right: Polina Table for Andreu World; Philippe Starck with wife Jasmine Abdellatif Starck; Olena Chair for Andreu World

Inside the Mind of a Far-Sighted Designer

Playful and obsessed with Creativity

Despite his claims of being serious, playfulness has come to be Philippe’s signature. His pieces, like the Alla Occasional Table and Miss Dior chair, even coax interaction. Glance at his photos with the products, and you will find yourself amused at his quirky poses. The contradiction is too intriguing and tempting not to question.  

“The more you are serious, the more you need humour, otherwise you become boring,” Philippe Starck concedes. That explains why his designs exist at the confluence of sentiments  and humour. It is only natural for a designer’s work to tether to the border of their personality.  

Philippe Starck‘s ambition to attain the best results spills into his routine, too. He designs in three-hour blocks punctuated by naps. “It’s very simple. It’s chemical”, he shrugs. “Creativity is nothing but managing concentration. Focusing for too long can inhibit productivity. The secret is  to sleep. I nap two times a day.” 

Clockwise, from top: Alla Occasional Table for Andreu World; Miss Dior Chair

The formula has worked wonders for Philippe. In his younger days, he toiled at his desk for four  hours at a time, but he finds that working three-hour shifts is much more beneficial. He is able to  do more. Focusing and switching the brain’s circuit off are both crucial to unleash full potential.  

Touted as a forward-thinking creator, to Philippe Starck, even the future depends on how each individual finds their modus operandi. “I perceive the future in more dimensions than  what science fiction movies depict”, the French designer explains. “Finding your own process is  crucial. I have never seen a genius idea coming from a team. Genius ideas always dawn on one person alone. To develop it, yes, a team is important. But to concoct a miraculous idea, it’s you alone in your bed.”

Philippe Starck at his desk

To Philippe Starck, who Counts as a Genius?

No, it is not designers

“Ptolemy”, Philippe Starck is prompt in reverting. The ancient geographer and astronomer calculated the circumference of the Earth using the Eratosthenes method 1800 years ago. While not on the dot, it deflects modern measurements by a mere two per cent—and that, to the designer, is worth adulation. 

In Philippe’s eyes, designers are no Ptolemy. “We are useless; we make nothing”, he says without hesitation. “As designers, we don’t create life; nor do we save it. At best, we try to make life better, but that’s not genius.”   

To hear a designer of his calibre and talent be unabashed and intrepid is humbling. There are designers around the world hoping to imbibe an iota of his acumen, but Starck asks them to  reconsider. If he could turn back time, he would venture into writing or composing music himself. “Don’t be a designer, and don’t aspire to be me,” he advises

I didn’t choose design; design chose me.

– Philippe Starck

Clockwise, from top: Maksim stool for Andreu World; Demonstrating putting together the Alla Occasional Table at NeoCon 2023, Taras Table for Andreu World; Hosting talk at Andreu World Showroom in Chicago

As a young boy, Philippe Starck was aimless but he loved sketching and drawing. One path led to another, and he took up design. “With the energy I harness into creating  ideas, I could do something more fulfilling for the community than making chairs”, he points out.  He worries whether he stuck with design because it was the easier route. 

Even with these regrets, Starck feels duty-bound to his profession. He continues to pour his heart and soul into design. Take his latest collection for Andreu World as a case in point.  The entire collection has no screws or glue. The pieces are inspired by nature and have subtle but sultry curves. 

His focus on sustainability has been constant, even in the heyday of design. Andreu World shares his vision and together they work to lead sustainability in the design sector. Their collaboration has resulted in a dozen projects based on the principles of eco-design, using wood in innovative ways and without the use of glue or ironwork. These projects stand out for their democratic ecology, contemporary, timeless and circular design, guaranteeing the recyclability and circularity of the product. Cradle to Cradle® certification supports his approach, while the FSC® 100% seal guarantees responsible production from the forest to the consumer.

What does it take to work with Philippe Starck? 

The world wants to collaborate with Philippe Starck. He has worked with the likes of Andreu  World, Axor, Kartell and many more. Yet, there’s a queue wanting to onboard the experience,  expertise and humour he brings to the table. So, we asked him the million-dollar question: what  does it take to work with Philippe Starck?  

“Have humanity and be honest. Speak less and work more,” he says. “I have no interest in  explanations; I am obsessed with effort. Don’t be boastful, be humble. I love those who can be  vulnerable and take risks. If we share these values, we can work together.”

Clockwise, from top: Poele Collection for Alessi; Kartell Masters Chair Reimagined; Philippe Starck Portrait; Pratfall Armchair for Driade

His ask is straightforward but not simple, much like the man himself. Around him, NeoCon’s  fast-paced tempo settled too. He remained patient through his interviews, as refreshing in one  as in another. His heavy French accent was endearing, as was his attempt to understand each  journalist’s context. It was evidentPhilippe sets the bar high and expects others to follow.

No one has to be a genius, but everyone has to participate.

– Philippe Starck

Watch Out!  

More to come from Philippe Starck

Axiom space station’s crew quarter habitation module 

Orbite astronaut training complex  

A New Way of Prefabricated Modular Construction  

Medical Equipment to Revolutionise Dental Healthcare 

Article info

Date added:

5 October, 2023

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