Philippe Starck in 6 objects
Starck, a name that “clicks” in contemporary design. More than a name, a brand synonymous with inventiveness and creativity in the design landscape. Recognised throughout the world, Philippe Starck is the French designer with the most media coverage and is courted by industries worldwide. Over the past thirty years, he has tackled all types of projects: from everyday objects that he sublimates, such as a toothbrush, a door handle or cutlery, to major international hotel chains that entrust him with the mission of reinventing the decoration of their palaces, not to mention the creation of modern architectural buildings
It is difficult to sum up such a “bulimic” career. Nevertheless, Philippe Starck continues to trust his instincts and relies on the values that guide his work. Rather than give an overview of his achievements, we have chosen to understand the philosophy of this extraordinary personality through 6 objects that embody the “Starck” spirit.
Philippe Starck was born on 18 January 1949 in Paris. One could say that he “fell into the pot” of design since his father, André Starck, an aeronautical engineer, designed light aircraft. In an interview book (1), the designer explains that he spent hours in his grandparents’ basement, working on a workbench to rework his toys, and admits that it was then “that he learned the mastery of lines, of design, by himself”.
In 1979, after a few creations, he really launched the Stark Products company, which he renamed Ubik, in reference to the famous Philip K. Dick novel. His first real success came from the Costes family, who opened a café of the same name in the Halles district. Philippe Starck designed an armchair for the establishment that was far ahead of its time: the Costes Armchair (prototype 1981, production since 1984). This highly original seat is characterised by a tripod base, which allows the waiters to move around more easily in the room.
Philippe Starck aims for useful design. According to him, a new object must, above all, bring something to people. His design philosophy is best understood when he talks about Raymond LoewyThe father of industrial design, he explains that his success is based on the motto “Ugly sells poorly” (2). This implies for Starck that design is at the service of industry to sell better. However, according to him, the formula is now outdated: the question is no longer to sell more, but to invent legitimate products. The Costes Armchair also shows another facet of Starck’s work: the one that redefines the relationship between man and object. For the designer, the original base of the armchair requires greater attention from its user. A kind of sensual requirement is established between the object and its subject.
In 1986, Philippe Starck designed the Lola Mundo table-chair for the publisher Driade. Initially, a small coffee table in the spirit of the 18th century that opens up to become a chair. Two founding ideas of Starck’s work resurface in this piece. Firstly, his taste for playfulness by allowing himself to transform an object with a precious appearance, notably with the addition of pink rubber nipples on the seat. And the mixture of genres and styles that can also be found in the Costes Armchair. Although the legs are made of cast aluminium, they contrast with the preciousness of the wood of the top, which itself contrasts with the pink rubber nubs on the backrest/seat!
Given Starck’s audacity and imagination, Italian publishers began to ask for his services. With Alessi in 1992, Philippe Starck created one of his most emblematic objects, which has become an icon: the Juicy Salif juicer. With a shape almost reminiscent of a spider and a gracefully tapered body, the object is far from the traditional lemon squeezer! Acclaimed for its audacity, the Juicy Salif demonstrates the power of suggestion through the object, dear to Starck. It is also a futuristic and insolent object, which is not to the displeasure of its creator!
In the same year, Philippe Starck, still in collaboration with Alessi, designed the Hot Bertaa kettle. The name, facetious, makes you smile. Philippe Starck demonstrates his taste for simplicity and utility. A hollow conical polyamide tube runs across the top of the object and serves as both a handle and a funnel. It represents what the designer calls “the right object”. The shape of the object evokes a shell, a reference to its name.
Another essential dimension of Philippe Starck’s work is ecology. The designer wants to design sustainable objects with a minimal ecological footprint. Against the elitism of design, Philippe Starck wants to design everyday objects with a personality, but simple and functional, usable for any occasion. He succeeded in doing this with the design of the Dr. No armchair in 1996 (Kartell), a piece of furniture that is just as elegant in a living room as it is on the terrace of a restaurant or a private home. Dr. No is comfortable, practical, light and stackable. To do as much as possible with as few resources as possible, the shell is moulded in one piece from polypropylene, a material that does not absorb water and allows the chair to be used outdoors.
In his quest for the minimum in design and practicality, always with a touch of humour and imagination, Philippe Starck in 2002, the designer achieved a master stroke with what is undoubtedly his best-known and most widely copied object to this day. The Louis Ghostchair, designed in 2002 with the Italian publisher Kartell, combines the classicism of the old Louis XV armchair design with the modernity of the transparency of the polycarbonate armchair.
Once again, the material is perfect for both indoor and outdoor use. Easily transportable, the polycarbonate seat is scratchproof and shock resistant. On the practical side, up to six chairs can be stacked. Imaginative, daring, a blend of different styles, practical, light, the Louis Ghost chair combines all the Starck DNA. Available in many colours (there is even a smaller model for children), this chair has sold millions of copies. This shows that boldness and imagination, combined with certain values that Philippe Starck conveys in his design, can make an object a worldwide bestseller.
(1) Philippe Starck, impression d’Ailleurs. With Gilles Vanderpooten. Editions L’Aube
(2) La laideur se vend mal is a book by Raymond Loewy published in 1952 and regularly republished since.
By François Boutard