Robb Interview: Philipe Starck
It’s easier to perhaps list the things he hasn’t created. From Steve Jobs’ yacht to his famed Louis Ghost chairs, the interiors of the Elysée Palace, luxury residential homes, the world’s most controversial (and recognisable) lemon squeezer, The Mondrian to cars and boats and planes and, well, more. Step inside the mind of the famed French designer.
I spent my late youth staring at Philip Starck’s naked torso.
It was the cover of an eponymous art book – Starck standing proudly and puffed out, a right hand pulling at a belt loop of washed denim jeans, his head twisted 180 degrees to the rear, the back of his head sat atop his doughy body facing outwards.
In hindsight it was a pretty crude Photoshop job (the reverse play informing the book’s back cover) but it also projected an immediate sense of fun and whimsy – two tenets often found in his wide output, and surely, an insight into the man himself.
The book stood tall on the bookshelf of the share house bedroom I bunked down in – a peculiar image that would prove my final sight each day.
Cut to a here and 11pm one recent Wednesday and a slightly blurred image of an older Philipe Starck — thoughtful as he speaks, a permanent smirk etched across his gentle, bearded face – presents itself through the Macbook.
Our conversation is wide-ranging and far removed from expectation. Here there is indeed whimsy and fun, zero ego or even any appreciation for all he has achieved.
Starck will admit that his is a “lonely” existence through choice, a life devoid of people (save his wife, Jasmine) and time spent lost to his mind and its constant, swirling whir of creation.
Read the following as it is. Let his words play out as they do. It is at times rambling, contradictory and arguably lined by eccentricity. And some is muddled by translation, sure.
But read this and also hear the genius that walks a sharpened edge; the wonder of his mind; the love and creativity that drives all Philipe Starck does.
Mr Stark, good evening. I wanted to say, as someone who’s long admired and directly engaged your work at times, what a privilege it is to speak with you.
Oh, you will be disappointed – you will see [laughs].
Am I right in thinking that you’re in Portugal?
We are in the mist, we are in the fog, atop of the mountain in Sintra, near the sea.
You like to live remotely – it’s my understanding that most of your global properties are somewhat removed?
There is a technical reason, which is, I live somewhere else in my head. And I basically don’t need a city, I don’t need to go to dinner, to cocktails, to movie theatres, exhibitions and things like that. I have a collection [of houses] in the middle of nowhere with different levels of loneliness… And these different levels of loneliness make for different levels of concentration and that’s where I go to find the level of concentration I need for the type of project I am doing. Here I am in front of the sea at the western point of Europe and I live in the forests with trees, trees, trees. Or I live in the dunes with sand, sand, sand. Or I live in the mud like in my oyster farm in southwest of France or Venice.
Is there inspiration in such surrounds?
No. For me, nature – the sea and trees – is neutral. And I’m not intelligent enough to ask for inspiration … I am also not stupid enough or egoist [sic] enough to judge the quality of my work – but we can see the quantity of my work. At this level of creativity [I make] minimum one big complex project a day, sometimes more. Today I shall make one, two, three, four complex and completely different projects. My wife says it’s not really human – I have a mental sickness and it is true, because I have my life and my fantastic wife and everything, but I have no ‘real’ life … To speak frankly, I’m not interested by ‘real’ life. I’m a drug addict of creativity and inside my metal sickness I’m absolutely normal. Everything that I do is absolutely logical inside the crystal bubble of my mental sickness – I don’t regret it.
Your mind is forever restless is what I take from this – which explains your incredible output over the years.
Yes that is so. This idea of holidays and relaxation – it’s an obscenity because I don’t see why you would do that; why have holidays when you have the opportunity to live by passion? I actually can’t make anything other than three things: I can love definitively and I’m very happy and very proud of that, I live for the love of my wife. And then, after that, ha ha, I don’t remember, I have no memory… [laughs]
I recall you like sailing …
Yes, YES — it was this, you are very good. The other thing I know well after love, I’m very good at piloting a sailing boat and also motorcycles and a very good pilot of planes – except when I crash, I did this one time.
The sense of sole focus when piloting – that must appeal in ways given your mind?
I work at a range of 200 – 250 projects at the same time. When I make shoes, I think at the same time about something else, this is my mental sickness … When you pilot a plane you have a need to think only of one thing – to pilot. I like to sail in bad seas and large waves – if you make a mistake that can be a disaster, you turn and break your mast and then you and dead.
You like the extremes Mr Starck – there is no fear there. I dare say your fear lives in the framework of conformity – and is perhaps a driving force?
Oh no, I never react to anything. I never make a protestation to something else …
Are you very critical of yourself?
I hate what I do and have the highest level of despise [sic] – I am sorry for my English — of myself and when I finish something my only reaction is to insult myself. I do this all the time, because I see in everything that I do how I was lazy, a coward, dishonest, stupid and I am ashamed of myself when I see what I do.
But what of the positivity your work brings to so many others others – wjo atre in wonder at what you’ve achieved at times. They love what you do.
I don’t know because I never read magazines or interviews and I have almost no contact with people. This is why I have no reflection of myself and no reflection of what I do … Sometimes my wife tells me how a project is appreciated. ‘Oh good’, I will say, and that’ all … I don’t care, I just care for the engagement with myself; I do it for me and I think it’s a good process if you do it for yourself and at the highest level of creativity, the highest level of honesty.
Yours is a pure creativity – devoid of conscious and direct reflection?
It is pure and stupid creativity [laughs]. To be more clear, consciously I don’t think about it, but subconsciously I, well, sometimes I realise I’ve worked on a project for 50 years. [Gesticulates to his mind operating as an archaic computer processing ] “Schtroomf, schtroomf, schtroomf” and then one day it’s cooked and it’s finished and I take it out. Sometimes it’s not well cooked or finished and I reject it. Subconsciously I work on all things all the time – it’s a profit of this mental sickness. And it’s why people don’t believe me when I say I’ve designed the yacht of Steve Jobs in just three hours. Tomorrow I go to Iceland to make a polar station and I have [already] designed all the project without knowing the program elements and parametres of the design … In 20 minutes it’s all done.
You still design with pen and paper.
Yes, here is my international company [holds up pen and Stack monogrammed notepad]. And I have music too. Almost everyday I listen to the ‘Starck Mix’ – like that I always have the right music for concentration at the right time of the day. This is by the best sound designer in the world, Stephan Crasneanscki of Soundwalk [Collective]. He did it for me 20 years ago. I have other music too – for me the number one to work for concentration is Brian Eno – a perfect balance between intelligence and richness. I feel very close to Brian.
Let’s talk about this notion of art informing design, can they co-exist, do they need to …
Let’s separate the things here. I am not interested by the concept of art. To me it is an old bourgeois concept of the 17, -18-, 19th centuries. And everybody can be an artist – they write a business card: ‘Phillipe Stark, artist’. And there are artists who are creative and there are artists who are not creative. And I don’t like this part – because the artists who are not creative hide other creatives because they create things everywhere and in everything. To me it is not art that makes our animal species evolve – it’s creativity… I try to be a creator, I don’t care to be an artist.
Of all you continue to do, a standout is surely this shift into space with the AXIOM project [world’s first commercial space station]. This is completely new to you and to all – it involves completely new thought about use, space and living. How wonderful.
My father had a company that built planes. I am a pilot and I work and travel a lot and live in the air more than on earth. And when I am on earth, I don’t touch the ground [laughs]. I am in the air and I am in this space. And so the thing to understand when you work on a new beautiful project like the new ISS and more – it’s not very complicated. You have to understand how very beautiful and special the people who live here are. Incredible. And you have to deeply understand what zero gravity life is. And life without gravity is very interesting – it’s a multidirectional life. We are mainly vertical, when you are dead horizontal, but mainly vertical and it’s not enough. And because we live vertical and sometimes horizontal [sic] our thinking and our dreams are only bi-directional. It is not enough. I love the idea of the zero-gravity life because it’s a higher self. I am proud of this project. For someone who only lives though future and science and intuition and freedom – it’s almost an intimate [project] and we will continue on others.
Again love shines through Mr Starck.
For me it is the only thing that exists. I am still not convinced I am alive – I still don’t know what life can be but that means I’m not scared of death … The only thing I know, I see my wife and I see this very strong energy and this is very serious for me – the only hook I have with anything is this tube made of love between my wife and myself.
What a lovely way to see things …
Well, without it, without love, I think I’d be in an asylum.
I doubt that somehow. While you’ll never read this – thankyou for your time, merci mille fois, et j’espere a bientot.
Merci a vous.
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