Philippe Starck, 62, has been working with Duravit since 1992 and has created eight product ranges to promote its brand of kitchen and bathroom sanitary ware. In the lead up to Starck’s 20th anniversary with Duravit next year, he speaks to CID about where he draws his inspiration from.
Philippe Starck first attracted public attention when he was commissioned by the former president of France, François Mitterrand, to refurbish his private apartments in the Elysée Palace in Paris in 1982.
Since then, he has created his own company called UBIK, which means ubiquity, named after a 1969 science fiction novel by American writer, Philip K. Dick, set up organic food company, OAO, designed eight product ranges to promote Duravit‘s brand of kitchen and bathroom sanitary ware and has had a number of books published by the German publisher, Benedikt Taschen.
He shares his time between London, Paris and New York and has a house in Venice, Italy and Formentera in Spain.
He is currently married to fourth wife, Jasmine Abdellatif, and they have one child, a daughter named Justice. Starck’s other children include; a daughter Ara, by his first wife, Brigitte Laurent, to whom he was married for 22 years before she died of breast cancer; a son Oa by Patricia Bailer and two daughters, Lago and K by Nori Vaccari.
“I have no idea why people find me so fascinating because I live alone with my wife and family and I don’t even own a PC. I don’t see anyone and my daughter calls me a modern autistic, which is true,” he said.
The designer said he gets most of his inspiration from TED, which is a not-for-profit group, which started out in 1984, devoted to ideas worth spreading. It organises conferences in Long Beach and Palm Springs in the US each year bringing together people from Technology, Entertainment and Design as well as a global event in Edinburgh, Scotland, every summer.
“At TED you will see a collection of all the best brains.
“It is a place where people develop intelligence. TED is a masterkey of humanity. Everyone has a dream in life and if the dream is good, it will be developed. When we create something there is always a good and a bad part. Everything has a birth, a life and a death. All these ideas have to be developed,” he said.
“My work is to dream. That’s why I have so many new ideas and projects I am working on. Imagine there is a creative highway where nothing is ever finished; there are so many things to do. That’s why it is so sad we don’t have the time to do everything.
“Today in society we speak about creativity but that is not true: We speak about application of creativity. We speak about art, design, architecture, dance, music, but that is re-creativity.
“To boost creativity, you must not watch TV and don’t read magazines because you have to come up with your own ideas completely out of the mainstream of thinking.
“I never understand when somebody explains something to me. I haven’t got the brain for that. I can work on my idea from the beginning to the end. I have no diploma of anything because I cannot learn. The only diploma I have is a pilot’s licence. Even that is interesting. It is a black or white game, it is life or death.
“In our society it is interesting to play games. I have crashed two times but I’m not dead.”
Starck said he named his company UBIK, after the American writer Philip K. Dick, because he was the most advanced visionary for society.
He said he was the first person who spoke out in the 60s about the ubiquity of the world, of parallel worlds like the moving inception. And for him, he lives in inception, in ‘Einstein relativity’.
“That means for me nothing exists and there are parallel worlds like that.
I don’t know if it is a dream or not. More than 30 years ago when I founded this company it was not trendy to speak about ethics. But I’ve created the first ethical company.
“On the first day I wrote a chart which said we don’t work for weapons, we don’t work for tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and nothing which has anything to do with dirty money.
That means we work for nobody. We only work on projects which help people to have a better life.”
The designer was initially invited to create a collection for Duravit nearly 20 years ago and has since launched Starck 1,2 3, Starck X, SensoWash and St. Trop, steam showers.
“I love to work with Franz Kook, the CEO of Duravit because he is a very charismatic and serious man. Behind this seriousness there is a fantastic manager. He made Duravit 70 times bigger than what it was when he joined the company,” he said.
According to Starck, a lot of his ideas never come to fruition because he doesn’t try to develop everything. Sometimes he prefers that they remain as ideas.
“The trick is to think of things that are really good that people need. But we can fail in seeing it through to completion as we don’t find business partners to back the project.
“You have to know, that designers are incredibly lazy when it comes to finding business. There is no-one who comes to you and says ‘I want to develop that’.
“We forget it completely,” he said.
“My employers know that if they order something from me they will always receive something else, even the opposite to what they asked for. But it will always be a success.
“I remember when I designed a lemon squeezer for Alessi.
Alberto Alessi asked me to design a box to put butter in, but I thought this was stupid because butter is bad for cholesterol, so I made the lemon squeezer instead.
“For me the materialisation of ideas is pure necessity, I am obliged to do it. When I have an idea I have a duty to share it. Because I’m not a writer, I’m not a singer so the only way to share an idea is to produce it.
“But if I was rich and did not need the money, I would stay in bed the whole day dreaming non-stop.”
He admits some designers hate it when he tells journalists he can design a chair in two minutes and can make a hotel complete with all the furniture in it in one-and-a- half days … two days when he is in a bad mood.
“I am the fastest in the world because I am the slowest in the world. That means I subconsciously think about everything at the same time. Invitation, content, mathematics, toothbrush, all these things nonstop at the same time. I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and suddenly it is finished, it is done. I know it is time. I can show it,” he added.
“I try to be one or two steps ahead of myself and I realise a lot of what I do is incredibly advanced.
“When I created projects in the past, it was good because it was the right time to be in the market but a lot of things were way too far ahead for their time. For example, when I launched my organic food company, OAO, 15 years ago, it was advanced for its time.
“When I made the first elegant modern chain of vegetarian and organic restaurants it was clearly in advance. When I made the first ecological, prefab house with 3Suisses 13 years ago – it was in advance.
“At this time it was forbidden in France to build with wood. Nowadays the government in France gives a lot of money to build with wood. But it is better to be early than to be late.”
Commenting on that first foray into the public spotlight with President Mitterrand he added: “it was good to meet somebody so incredibly intelligent. It is the soul of life. When you speak to somebody like that you understand how a real genius works. But that’s all. Nothing changed in my life.
“We have an incredible life, we have everything we want, we have fame, money, and a beautiful place to live. The only thing that changed my life is my wife.”