On Seeing, A Journal.
February 21, 2019
“ABOVE and BEYOND: Interviews and Portraits of Extraordinary People in our Time”, Philippe Starck, Designer”
Like Charles and Ray Eames or Florence Knoll, Philippe Starck has one of those names that instantly shouts “Design!” Unlike the Eameses and Knoll, however, who are best known for furniture, interior, and office design, Starck is a designer with an almost unlimited range. In a long, distinguished career, Starck has fashioned everything from lemon squeezers to large yachts, from electric bicycles to wind turbines, from private homes to luxury hotels. Like other famous designers, he brings a new and often unimagined look to everything he designs. But as a rare talent in a field that requires renewing the look and function of things that have a traditional appearance, Starck has a vision that dramatically re-defines things that might have been thought as essentially unchangeable.
Starck has continually pushed forward the limits and criteria of design, becoming one of the most visionary and renowned creators of the international contemporary scene: Hotels, restaurants, cafés, nightclubs, boutiques, private homes, museums, wine cellars, chairs, tables, sofas, stools, shelves, beds, luggage, lighting, vehicles, and on and on.
Not long ago, Starck and his fun, smart, and beautiful wife, Jasmine, spent most of a day at my studio for portraits and an interview. Before he arrived, I found myself hoping that everything in my work space would be worthy of the formidable designer’s approval. He did note “You’re a minimalist!”
Starck was so engaging and fun, that for me, made for one of the most joyous of days allowing me the opportunity to explore portraiture from all sorts of perspectives.
It should be noted that French is Starck’s native tongue.
HS: Having researched your work, I thought I would start with some ideas you’ve expressed which, to me, are very beautiful. For instance, you’ve said, “My job is dreaming.”
PS: Yes. At night when I go to sleep I say to my wife, “Okay, I go to work.” Because when I sleep, I dream. I go places which are incredible. I meet people. I see invention. In the morning I wake up exhausted because it was an exploration. Every night, all my life, I dream only of things I never saw, I never knew.
HS: Where do these images come from?
PS: That is a real mystery. If I compare my daily life and my night life, definitively feel that my real life is in my dreams. And that’s why when I am awake, I continue to dream, and it’s my job.
HS: You’ve said, “I live permanently in a grey cloud.”
PS: For me, my life is just to be in sort of cloud which is grey, and not much fun. And I try to stay alive. I try to prove to myself I’m alive in this dark grey cloud. And sometimes there is a spiral that goes down and I have to try to catch the piece of clouds to really survive. And I have no idea of what is life. I have no idea of what people call happiness. I have no idea of all the racing of life. I am in my cloud, I am elsewhere, permanently, somewhere else.
HS: I accept that, but I don’t understand it. You have also said, “A perfect design does not exist.”
PS: A design goes through something materialistic. And when an idea, an intuition, goes through into materiality, it becomes immediately structurally imperfect. Only the dream is perfect.
When you work, when you create things, you create nonstop every minute of your life; that means you’re never finished. But when you start a subject you have an idea and you want to develop it. You can know when it’s finished when there is a physical feeling of something which has been built by itself. And you hear the noise. Clunk. It’s done.
I don’t speak about the quality but about the process, the structure; it’s called harmony. That’s when everything fits, when all the parameters are complete, well balanced. When you have harmony, you can close the file. I give it to my wife, who scans it and sends it to the team. I have finished my job.
I work completely alone. I’m a little “Asperger” and I can work only alone, far from everything. I never work in the city. Too much vibration. And I will always have a bed, a table and a beautiful view. A view of the clouds, a view of the waves. And I work 14 hours each day.
HS: It is a given that you’re prolific. Then again, there are so many details: You must have assistants, people who listen to what you envision. Just to do an architectural drawing of a building for example, it takes forever. Thousands of hours.
PS: No, no. I don’t work like that. I am the fastest slow guy in the world. That means I work subconsciously, never consciously, because I’m not intelligent enough; my monster, my subconsciousness works by itself on thousands of things at the same time. A million of things. My job is to be fresh in the morning, to have my pencil, my paper. I have no computer. I have no telephone. I jot my ideas. That goes so fast.
HS: If I were to ask you to draw a loveseat could you do that?
PS: Yes. But that is too easy.
HS: Well, I’ve seen many chairs of yours, but I haven’t seen a loveseat.
PS: What do you call a loveseat?
HS: For two people.
PS: Ah, a sofa?
HS: A short sofa, so two people can sit very close to each other.
PS: Something creative or something classic?
HS: You decide.
PS: We’ll make something. (As he drew, he spoke) I don’t know if it’s more fun if its classic or not. And after to show clearly what are the lines we can make something like that. Like that we understand the shape but that can be something like this.
PS: If you want a classic one we shall make one like this.
Ah, that is shit. It’s more a sofa. I’m sorry.
Like this. Up, like this. Up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up.
And if you want to be a little more comfortable we can have some other pillow like this.
That’s a modern one.
( I tried again)
HS: Where do inspirations come from?
PS: Mental sickness. And from a high level of desire to be loved. And to not be alone. Because when I was young, I was really invisible. I was a ghost. Charming, polite, good education, but nobody loved me, nobody understood me. And I spent all my youth completely lonely. And one day, when I was 15 or 16, I decided that it was not possible to continue like this. And I said, What can I do to exist? And the thing I remember is that my father was designing planes. He was inventing, and I said perhaps I could also invent. As a result, I started to create things.
HS: I would like to explore your personal philosophy of morality about which you’ve spoken and which very much moves and impresses me. “Creativity has a duty to political action.”
PS: Yes, everything has a meaning. Everything has a weight. Everything has a reason. Everything has an impact. That’s why when you are a producer like me, a producer of ideas, of concepts, and products, you have a very high level of responsibility because everything you will do has an impact on life and on people’s way of thinking. This impact is subconscious. You don’t know the impact, you don’t read the impact, but the impact exists within everything.
That’s why you have to be very rigorous on what you think, to not send a bad message. If you are from left like me you shouldn’t create a fascist product, an aggressive product.
HS: You’ve said, “What interests me is my sentimental life.”
PS: It’s the only thing which interests me. Einstein’s relativity that said nothing exists, everything is a different architecture or a different molecular stream. I was born with this deep feeling that nothing exists. Everything is moving. And it’s not very comfortable to live like that because you have nothing to catch, to grip, to handle. But I live like that. It’s okay, and I survive, and it’s even fun at the end. Finally the only thing you can really feel is something which doesn’t exist, that isn’t material. The table, the chair, you knock it, it makes a noise, it looks hard. It is not.
But the relation between people, this tube of energy between people because we are intelligent, because we are friends, or we are in love. That is real. Its love. That’s why I think only about the love I have for somebody. My love relation; that means every minute I think about my wife. Every minute. And every minute I ask myself do I deserve that? Do I deserve this love? And how I can improve it. And I can tell you I never succeed.
Image: Philippe and Jasmine Starck.
They’ve placed a dot/tattoo on their arms each year of their marriage.
HS: Don’t all artists have a need to be loved?
PS: I think it’s the only reason to do it. If you have the luck to have the tool, the weapon to express yourself, you have a duty to express yourself and say what you have to say. And have absolute freedom.
HS: You’ve said, “We have to replace beauty with goodness.”
PS: Yes. Yes, because beauty is a controlled opinion. Beauty means nothing. Beauty is a suitcase word. It covers everything but it’s not enough. People arrive in the museum and say “Oh my God, it’s beautiful!” And it’s done. It’s beautiful. But why? It’s not enough. It’s not a serious opinion. It’s not a serious position, because two years later the trend has changed. It’s not beautiful anymore. And 20 years later the trend comes back to “Oh my God, it’s beautiful!” Who can trust something which moves like that?
That’s why beauty is absolutely not interesting and cultural work is not interesting. It’s not strong enough. There is not enough longevity. There is not enough honesty. There is not enough intelligence. That’s why I prefer something good. I’m not looking for a beautiful chair, first because we shouldn’t decide a chair is beautiful. Only humans are beautiful. The worst human is always more beautiful than the most beautiful chair. I just want a good chair, one which will be good for me. That’s all. I don’t need more than that. That’s why you have always to look for what is good, not what is beautiful.
(I am still trying….)
HS: I want to come back to where ideas come from? Do you get inspired? Do you go for a walk and see something? Do you go to museums, do you read magazines, do you go to movies, do you read books? I’ve read that you don’t do those things. So, I wonder where inspirations come from? Do they come from just something mysterious inside?
PS: It’s from inside and mysterious. That means I have no idea.
I am exactly like Mozart. I’m very, very dull in my life and very sophisticated in my work. I absolutely don’t know. I’m always trying to understand. I’m very interested in everything I see.
HS: Is it a curse that you see everything?
PS: The only way to understand is to see, not to think. To see.
Sometimes, at the end of the day I finish my work, I close the file and give it to Jasmine. She looks inside and says “Wow, it’s complicated.” I say yes, it’s super complicated, it’s incredible. And I tell her that the most incredible thing is I have not thought once about that, not thought, absolutely not thought. I have just done it.