Philippe Starck on vision and substance

a perspective

Phillipe Starck first came to attention with an experimental inflatable structure in 1969. By 1983 the French designer at just 34 years of age was commissioned by France’s president, François Mitterrand, to renovate the interiors of his private apartment inside the Élysée Palace. Starck is now one of the most prolific designers in history, with some 10,000 creations in just about every genre, from watches and all types of furnishings to hotels, restaurants, super sail boats, and architectural landmarks to his name. Most recently he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in Milan at the Salone de Mobile.

“I’ve always thought that if I ever wrote about myself in a book, I would call it Elsewhere, because that’s where I spend my life. When people ask me where I live, I feel obliged to answer: ‘Elsewhere’. I’m neither nowhere, nor everywhere, nor yet here or there. I’m in a world of my own, be it day or night. But it’s worse at night. I stray so far afield I’m often absolutely exhausted.

“A lot happens when I’m asleep. Every night after putting my book down, I leave for work. I say to my wife: “I’m off to work.” It’s awful really, I lead my real life at night, visiting different worlds, experiencing situations and smells, seeing things that don’t exist and of which there is no sign in the real world. Night after night I go somewhere else, dreaming intensely. Sometimes, on waking, I think it was beautiful, forgetting it was just a dream. In practice it’s not a great deal of use in my work, apart from François Mitterrand’s desk, which I designed after seeing it in a dream, making a sketch when I woke up.

“I get up early and prepare for the day. I start in the bathroom, which is quite a ritual, with everything in its place, all very methodical and minutely organised to suit the appointed playlist. Wearing the Zik headphones I designed for Parrot, I brush my teeth and so on, while listening to my choice of music. If I don’t like the playlist, it’s back to bed. Getting it right is essential for the quality of my projects. I’m obsessed with music. If it suits me I’m ready for work.

I don’t work much in Paris, mostly elsewhere.

 In Venice, for instance, or on boats, in very cramped spaces. All I need is a table, a pad of carbon paper, a pencil – always the same – and of course my music.

I became a designer as an easy option, allowing the job to choose me. I’ve always realised there was not much to it, so in a way I felt I had to add a little more substance to things. Like everyone else I want to invent a new world. Everything I create must say something else too. Even a toothbrush must deserve to exist by conjuring up another dimension, something more than just being a toothbrush, regardless of whether it’s poetic, comic, sexy or political; whether it’s inspired by something larger such as bionism [according to Starck, ‘Bionism means finding inspiration in living matter to design technology better suited to humans’], dematerialisation, democratisation or freedom. What I produce is, I believe, legible and consistent, despite the difference in volume and scale between designing a rocket or a starport with Virgin Galactic [Richard Branson’s suborbital spaceflight company], and creating a new brown rice, organic oil or toothpick.

“I have always drawn and always been good at it. But I’m not an artist. It’s a misuse of words. A lot of people think someone creative is necessarily an artist. It’s not true at all. Artist is a label in a middle-class system of describing work, much as for plumbers, accountants or electricians. It doesn’t mean you’re creative. What gives [human] life meaning is the creativity which finds an outlet in everything. So some artists are creative, others not, and there are plumbers who display more creative flair than artists.

What I’m interested in is not design, it’s our life as part of the human species, our ongoing efforts to achieve progress, evolution and change. I’m leftwing so it’s hardly surprising these ideas interest me. People often criticise me for being leftwing. Some of my friends don’t even believe me. But it’s ridiculous to criticise me on the grounds that I can’t be leftwing because I earn a lot. My position on that is very simple: being leftwing is about humanism and altruism. The right is selfish and I still believe I’m more altruistic than selfish. I may be self-centred, but I’m altruistic too. I give work to many people. At Studio Starck, for starters, but also in a whole series of trades which work for the firm.

Any fees I earn outside what I consider to be my professional activity are donated to nonprofit organisations. My earnings are derived exclusively from my work. All the rest I give away […] earning money doesn’t stop me taking an interest in others.

Image attribution: Photo by James Bort, sourced from Words sourced from Philippe Starck Interview by Melina Gazsi (2013). Used under Fair Dealing terms (AU). 

Care to share?