Starck sees the world like no other; a wizard of shapes, forms and dimensions, he is an alchemist who looks beyond the usual to create everyday items that are born from an otherworldly inspiration. For over 30 years, this enigmatic Frenchman has been defying the boundaries of imagination and creativity, redefining shapes, textures, materials and the way we use space. A leading figure of the New Design movement, he has taken his place alongside the likes of Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfus and Christian Dior as influential designers who helped shape the post-war era. But Starck’s influence continues into the 21st century, where he stands amongst Jean-Paul Gaultier and Damien Hirst as the pioneer of a new era.
Starck is an enigma, in the true tradition of a creative genius, yet where many wrap themselves in the mystery of the artist or attempt to add gravitas to their endeavours by intellectualising their impact or inspiration, Philippe Starck is not afraid of taking responsibility and coming down to earth. Unlike many New Design stylists, however, he has outgrown the artistic snobbery of creating shocking, one-off luxury items, but has instead developed into a prolific designer whose products range from exclusive and bespoke to everyday, mass-produced items. A true designer, Starck has created, shaped and moulded across the disciplines, applying his gifted touch to architecture, interior design, graphic art, fashion and his first love, industrial design.
In so doing he has produced everything from buildings and shop interiors to cars, yachts, windmills and the practical household items we use on a daily basis. Applying his voluptuously streamlined style, he has breathed new life and added both glamour and fun to everyday products and utensils, injecting them not only with colour and a new visual perspective, but also heightening our senses through unusual combinations of materials, such as plastic and aluminium, fabric and chrome, and glass and stone. Yes, he designs weird, wonderful and impossibly exclusive projects such as the Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico, and a whole string of elitist hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and jewellery stores from Paris and London to New York, Moscow and Hong Kong. The difference is, Philippe Starck is also happy creating inexpensive products such as the Juicy Salif, a stylised yet inexpensive juicer that has since become a cult item.
In the eye of the beholder…
Famously uncomfortable when asked to discuss design at length, he has had many an interviewer at their wit’s end. Asked what he wanted to become as a youngster, he typically answers ‘composer’ or ‘astrophysicist’. Instead he attended the École Nissim de Camondo in Paris, founding a design firm in 1968 that specialised in inflatable objects, a popular theme at the time. A year later, Pierre Cardin joined him as art director, but it was in 1982 that Starck’s career really took off, when President Mitterrand asked him to redecorate the private chambers of the Elysée Palace.
Next came Café Costes, now an institution of cool, and from then on Starck has never looked back, working on the Royalton Hotel on New York’s East 44th Street to create an interior that helped spark the boutique hotel genre. His style continues to evolve as his über-cool hotels, shops, restaurants, nightclubs and bespoke items spread across the continents, but again he finds time to pen designer corkscrews, bottles, labels and chairs – many of them stylish but also affordable.
Having spent his youth looking at aeronautical designs take shape in his father’s workshop, Philippe Starck’s passion for drawing and creating is understandable. To him it is the most natural thing in the world, not an elitist process wrapped up in artistic exclusivity. From his mother he inherited an elegant, poetic outlook on life that he calls ‘panache’. It is the mix of these two elements, the wondering, imaginative mind and the hands that are trained to give visual shape to those thoughts, which make the designer.
Going against the grain fires the creativity of this great designer – especially when the grain consists of self-important, pseudo-intellectual babble. A visionary but also a man of action, Starck is a robust character who loves his subject matter and uses all his senses the way a great chef does to create masterpieces that offer pleasure and add spice to our lives.