There is one thing all critics agree when it comes to the Frenchman Philippe Starck. He is always good for a surprise. For some he is an iconoclast with a strong sense of image cultivation. For others he is a true humanist expressing his views on mankind and nature and anything in between with objects as distinct from each other as one can imagine. Interiors for Baccarat or the shape of pasta, Philippe Starck never shied away from anything. Who else could claim to have a toilet brush by his own name in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art?
So it happened that he didn’t actually exhibit any objects at the retrospective that the Centre George Pompidou held in Paris in 2003. Rather he told stories of his objects in an audio-visual installation. And there it is again. Starck’s philosophy, that seems to be somewhat anti-design at times.
“Subversive, ethical, ecological, political, fun: this is how I see my duty as a creator.”
Philippe Starck’s quest during the 80’s and 90’s to democratize design was successful. It’s done. It is probably safe to say that everyone in the civilized world has seen or even owns a Philippe Starck design object. His collaborations with Alessi, Samsonite, Kartell to name just a few made it possible. A lemon squeezer, a toilet brush, an alcoholic “food spray for the future”, however trivial some projects may seem, they are the result of a legacy that is not obvious at a glance. Indeed, Starck sees his own work in the Bauhaus tradition in the sense that he wants to improve the quality and reduce the price of objects thus make them accessible through smart channels of distribution. Only that he adds a sensual, emotional and ethical aspect to the meaning of quality. He has been a potent catalyst of this development.
This endeavor of democratization included hotels and affected the hospitality industry for everyone to enjoy today. The Paramount in New York, designed by Starck is the first budget design hotel and the beginning of that trend. Many more should follow.
Now he aims to do the same for “Democratic Ecology”, applying the same logic in a new quest to enable the largest possible number of people to deal effectively with the new ecological challenges and their side effects. To make the technology to reduce energy consumption or even better, generate energy, affordable, accessible and user friendly. So he introduces windmills for home users, starting at just 500 Euros and ready to use in an hour. He designed an electro car for Volteis introduced at the Geneva Motor Show 2012. Nor does bio food escape his social radar, creating the organic nutrition brand OAO.
“The desire to do good, better and fairer” leads to Starck’s recent brainchild, P.A.T.H, prefabricated, accessible, technological homes; turnkey solutions launched in 2013. And again one cannot miss the resonance of what another pioneer of design called “machines for living” almost a century ago.
The son of an aircraft engineer started his career as innovative interior designer. He gained institutional recognition with the interior of the private residence of Francois Mitterand at the Elysée Palace. The Café Costes in Paris received spectacular reviews and the iconic Costes chair is a famous object of desire till today.
Philippe Starck has designed countless nightclubs, restaurants, bars and hotels allover the world. Along with it the collection of furniture designs grew into an extensive list of chairs, shelves, drawers, lounge seating, beds, tables, stools, mirrors and more. Not to mention an equally extensive list of lighting objects.
It is almost impossible to define a coherent Philippe Starck furniture style although each piece of furniture has a distinctive character. There are organic shapes as seen with the Soft Egg chair, Out-In chair and the Impossible series. The Costes and Royalton chairs as well as the Monsieur X Deckchair feature more restrained classic shapes and wood.
The blockbusters Dr. Glob and Dr. No, an inventive combination of metal and plastic and the series of Ghost chairs, entirely in transparent plastic, show a playful side.
The Cosy Chair for the American discount giant Target in 2002 is an icon for democratic design available for just a few dollars and long sold out.
One can only wait and wonder what will come next. Most certainly Philippe Starck is not done feeding the creative world his own recipe of fast food and fine dining.