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Talents & Awards / Ground control to Major Starck

Ground control to Major Starck

Published on 2 August 2023 Share

Maison&Objet - Talents & Awards - Philippe Starck - Exclusive Interview

Interview with Philippe Starck, Jury President of the Rising Talent Awards France 2023. He needs no introduction. Everybody knows his name. Or so we think. Each encounter sheds new light on his awe-inspiring life and mind-blowing career. His creative genius thwarts the spirit of the times. For nearly forty years, his brand has been blowing an ever-fresher wind that never ceases to agitate the propellers and drive the turbines of the great mill of International Design crazy.

This a metaphor not as wonky as you may find if we reconsider for a minute the impressive scope of the fields he keeps exploring. Here, civil engineering with an individual wind turbine project; there, aeronautics with a futuristic mega-yacht; and even further, a module dwelling unit way up above our heads.

From a now-iconic lime-squeezer to the ISS, the “sky is – no longer – the limit” for his visionary gaze. “Ground control to Major Starck”, although sailing the seven seas or in circumvolution beyond the stratosphere, this tireless creator remains no less earthly, his feet firmly rooted in the reality of our world and its present challenges. Because in forty years of innovation, Starck has remained faithful to one same vision: an ever more “Democratic” Design that works to make life better for us all.

Forty years old is almost twice the age of most of the winners that these Rising Talent Awards 2023 catapult into the orbit of the Made-in-France Design planet. For the first time, Philippe Starck has done Maison&Objet the honour of chairing the jury for this new edition scrutinising the freshest French generation of creators. It was also a way of showing his loyalty to Maison&Objet, which crowned him “Designer of the Year” in 2010 and also where, just last January, he revealed an exclusive collection for Andreu World.

Therefore, as a talent scout, Philippe Starck marks his return to the Parisian salon this year. But the passing years are of little importance to Starck, who constantly redraws himself under the graphite of his mine, which always slips and turns relentlessly every morning on his tracing paper. A freedom to reinvent oneself is undoubtedly the recipe for its longevity and in the wake of which our Rising Talents are part, like so many generations of Designers, Architects and Decorators before them – and no doubt still many others to come after.

We exclusively met with the elusive Starck, who answered our questions from “somewhere, in the air or the middle of nowhere.” 

Maison&Objet: Can you tell us more about the story written with the Maison&Objet fair and its unique place in your career?

Philippe Starck: “I saw the birth of Maison&Objet. Today, the show has established itself as the reference in the sector for all furniture designers. Maison&Objet allows both established designers and young talents to access international visibility. I was also thrilled to present my latest collaboration with Andreu World last January, a collection of entirely sustainable pieces of furniture designed with a key system, without screws or glue.”

Maison&Objet: As Jury President of the Rising Talent Awards 2023, you will return to the show this September to highlight the young Design scene. The talent pool is fertile! How did you approach this mission?

Philippe Starck: “I am honoured to have been invited as President of this edition. The new generation of creators is rediscovering the ethical values of certain designers of yesteryear, like Enzo Mari, who shared a humanist and social vision and communist values. Today, we must consider the ecological matter a normal and urgent parameter. As a result, Design must take the opposite view of the fashion trend and concern itself with ethics, ecology, economy, and ergonomics to be of real creative services to the community.

Maison&Objet - Paris - Sept. 2023 - Rising Talent Awards France - Athime de Crecy

Maison&Objet: You have indeed appointed Athime de Crécy. The young designer joined your studio and worked with you for five years before launching his brand in 2022. How does his uniqueness shine differently in the splendid panorama of the new French Design?

Philippe Starck: “Athime de Crécy is not fashionable. He’s gifted with a French-engineering spirit. He is genuine and not afraid, to be honest. He works more than he talks. He is creative and timeless, political in nature, elegant in thought, and his relationship to others and life. He is a bit neurodivergent, maybe, but he embodies what the future should be like. Not aiming at reproducing the trendy pages of design magazines is a great and rare singularity. Being alone with your destiny is another. His creativity, vision, honesty, political awareness, and taste for combat truly shape tomorrow's design.”

Maison&Objet: In your opinion, is a specifically French approach to design today identifiable in the globalised landscape?

Philippe Starck: “French creation is expressed more by the elegance of quality than by extravagance. You should never expect a great fantasy from France. For example, France will never be punk or grunge. That's not our essence. The French spirit is made of timelessness and longevity. It emanates an elegance of intelligence. We have an idea of rigour when we judge something good or bad. This famous critical spirit forces each French designer to rise through work and quality. And although we produce fantastic designers and brands in France, we are not a “fashionable” country per se. We are individualists. It reflects the way and the meaning of our society today, where everything is more different, more personal, and where everyone wants to set their own trends.”

Maison&Objet:You share an insatiable curiosity and an ever-renewed taste for novelty with the new generation. How do you keep the flame of your creativity burning and alive?

Philippe Starck: “I have never been interested in Design or Architecture per se; creativity is such a mental illness for me that I practice it alone. I'm not saying it's good, but that's how I operate. I live like a monk in the middle of nowhere. Every morning, from 7 a.m., I am alone with my tracing paper and criterium and create until dusk. I don't go to restaurants; I don't watch TV or go to the movies; I don't go to cocktail parties or lounges. Because I am firmly convinced that to try to bring something new, you must be outside the mainstream. Otherwise, we all hear and repeat the same thing. This is the advice I give to young designers, who are already fantastic because they represent the future.”

Maison&Objet: Placed under the theme “Enjoy!”, this edition of Maison&Objet intends to celebrate enthusiasm, exaltation and audacity. How to make design rhyme with pleasure and jubilation?

Philippe Starck: “Design does not necessarily rhyme with pleasure and jubilation. I'm the most boring person in the world: I'm dark, I don't talk, I'm clearly autistic, I only think about serious things, and I'm not very funny, which is even sad. Paradoxically, humour is one of the most interesting symptoms of human intelligence. My whole life is based on a mixture between seriousness and humour. Humour makes it possible to put everything into relativity, almost an Einsteinian relativity where all the atoms, according to their architectures, make things exist or not, or exist in this or that way. Humour allows you to see everything differently. It's an angle of perception on life. It's a look that allows you to do anything and open everything. Humour is absolutely vital.”

Maison&Objet - Paris - Jan. 2023 - Philippe Starck - Andrew World

Maison&Objet: You are the pioneer of a “Democratic” Design. Engaged in your wake, the seven winners of the Rising Talent Awards continue on this reflection. How can design today respond to these challenges while remaining accessible to as many as possible?

Philippe Starck: “Our role as designers and producers is essentially based on honesty, rigour, politics, ecology and social issues. We must become guards. Forty years ago, I created the concept of “Democratic” Design, which consists of offering the best possible quality while reducing costs, to make Design accessible to as many people as possible. This concept is based on the hatred of programmed elitism. In twenty-five years, I have won this fight. I think that if you have the honour of having a good idea, you have a duty to share it with as many people as possible. Our economic, social, political and ecological challenges have not yet been resolved. There is still work to be done, particularly on research into bio-sourced materials. But the Human is a genius. We are brilliant animals. We have the ability to create and find solutions.” 

Maison&Objet: What is your vision of a “design of the future”, and how can the young scene work with you to bring it to life in the 21st century?

Philippe Starck: “Design must, above all, be timeless. This is essential because what is not timeless is fashionable. What is fashionable will – by definition – be outdated and, therefore, will go to waste. The first parameter is to draw for a long time. And for that, Design must be very rigorous to become a classic. You have to go to the bone, always the minimum of intelligent and sustainable materials such as bio-sourced plastic, plywood which allows the use of as little wood as possible or aluminium, which is an indestructible material ensuring the extreme longevity of the object. The intelligent part of human production is – and will increasingly be – based on dematerialisation to increase the object's quality, intelligence and power while reducing its materiality. What for? Because we know that the more material there is, the less humanity there is. We must create less, better and for longer.”

Maison&Objet: Our Rising Talents dare all formal hybridisations, marry historical references and mediums, rethink scales... In short: they explode all codes. Is Design “rebellious” in essence?

Philippe Starck: “You shouldn’t be rebellious without a cause. But there is a duty to be a rebel if you see something wrong, incorrect, dangerous or making people unhappy. Being rebellious is not an attitude. It is a real and useful fight. The designer, because he is a producer of ideas but also of material items, has a powerful responsibility. Every colour, every shape, every material means something. It can therefore guide the thinking of people who will buy and use its products. If you draw a ‘macho’ object, the user will be surrounded by a ‘macho’, obsolete, heartlessly masculine, useless or aggressive universe. Suppose you show finer products in the making, non-gendered products demonstrating a certain fluidity, which leads to the total advent of female intelligence. In that case, you truly prepare people for what the future will be like.”

Maison&Objet: The Rising Talent Awards strive each year to recognise the work of a young craftsman. What is the place of craftsmanship in your approach as a designer?

Philippe Starck: “There is a growing paradox: we want quality and acceptable prices for mass-produced industrial goods, but we also want a unique object for ourselves. It's human, yet only mass production can increase quality while remaining accessible. Crafting is more of a sentimental or political choice. If industrialisation implies uniformity, in some cases, customisation can reconcile mass production with the uniqueness of the product. For example, I discovered pieces of extraordinary quality for the Cidade Matarazzo Hotel in Sao Paulo, on which we worked for almost fifteen years with my friend Alexandre Allard. We had demanded, researched, and worked on primal materials. We found artisans and artists travelling deep into the Amazon Forest. The most beautiful material I have found is that of feathers, used by Native South Americans for their headdresses. All outdoor furniture is from giant roots that a local artist has reworked and polished. The strength of craftsmanship makes it possible to find the essence, the deep spirit, the ‘soul’ of things in all projects.”

Maison&Objet: What would be a designer's legacy for future generations?

Philippe Starck: “When you are born, you sign a contract with your community. This contract is straightforward: according to your level of intelligence, creativity, and imagination, you must invent to help the evolution of our specie. Creativity and imagination are in our DNA. Our raison d'être is our legitimacy to exist simply because we imagine and create daily. We only live to contribute to our evolution's beautiful films, stories, and poetry. Today, longevity, transmission, and heritage are the most avant-garde concepts.”

Interview by Timothée Nicot


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