Designer Philippe Starck talks about himself, his ideas and his bathrooms
Why do you think people find you so fascinating?
I have no idea (because I see nobody). We live completely alone and we meet nobody. My daughter says that I’m a modern autistic – which is true. We live mainly in the air in a plane every day. When we land we leave in the middle of nowhere: in the middle of a forest, in the middle of mud in our oyster farm. Whilst we make a cubic of oysters we have no cars, no water, no electricity, but now we have a new amphibious boat.
We live in a very small Island with some fishermen in the north of Venezia or we live at the end of the island of Formentera on a rock in a house. On the door of this house there is a big board on which “no visit without appointment- all appointments cancelled” is written. And this since 20 years. That means since 20 years nobody came into this house. That means I have no feedback of some of what I can be in this idea of people.
And more than that I have not a software of that. I am not interested of that. I work – alone I live with my wife – alone. We work incredibly hard when we don’t make stupid things like interview. I wake up 5.30 in the morning. We always live together in the same room there is my desk and there is her desk. She makes the connection with outside with PC and things like that. And me I work, I work, I work… and I love it.
We work until 1.30 then we eat vegetarian and we try dietetic then we make a nap after we go back to work. At 6 we go to the closest harbour to have a drink with the fisherman and then we go back making a nap and read a lot and sleep as early as possible.
Could you work for any company?
No way. My company is called UBIK for ubiquity (Allgegenwart). Also for the good of Philip K. Dick who was the most advanced visionary for the society. He was the first who spoke in the 60s about the ubiquity of the world, of parallel worlds like the moving inception.
And me I live in inception. I live in Einstein relativity.
That means for me nothing exists and there are just 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 have written a chart which said we don’t work for weapons, we don’t work for tobacco, alcohol, gambling, religion and oil companies and nothing which has something to do with dirty money. That means we work for nobody. And it’s what I said: weapons, tobacco, alcohol, oil company, religion they love to give us billion of dollars to buy us and they think they can buy a new virginity.
We work only when the people can make a project which helps people to have a better life in any type of life and when we love the people.
You have a lot of kinds that you love
Yes. Because I never stop that means I never work and I never go to my office. I was not in my office in the last 10 years.
I am a professional dreamer. That means my work is not to work. My work is to dream. That’s why we have so many, many, many new ideas and projects we are working on – you will be surprised.
Strangely I am very old now but it’s going better and better. That even surprises me. Because you think now you are old … but that’s not true. If you are still uncomfortable, still anxious, still open, still curious, there are so many things to do, especially nowadays.
Imagine the creative highway there is with the crisis which we never finished; with a new poverty. We shall reinvent us as an occident. We shall invent our new dignity. We shall help people to have a new dignity. What will be the next aesthetic of poverty. There are so many things to do. That’s why it is so sad we don’t have the time to do everything.
Now we have a new project that I love: we shall launch in one year the laboratory of fundamental research of pure creativity. That means I am now in contact with scientists, doctors, psychologists, biologists, everybody is there to find why we have ideas. Where is the difference between us and animals? It’s “Eureka I have an idea!”
I want to know why one day somewhere I don’t know what was eating grass in the field and suddenly it said: “I have an idea”. All its friends said: “what is an idea?” And it said: “I have no idea but I shall find out.” That is what Einstein said: When somebody asked what was your life? And you can say I have an idea and I spent all my life searching to prove it. And our miracle is how we have ideas. What is a miracle? We are obliged to find something because in the whole story of humanity nobody has researched that.
Today in our society we always speak about creativity but that is not true: We speak about application of creativity. We speak about art, design, architecture, dance, music, Duravit what you want it is never recreativity.
That means we have to find out how it works, if we can boost creativity. We shall make a school to transmit our boost and reveal creativity. Then it is the real creativity and it is open to anybody. Why I live like I explained before: it is the gymnastics you need to make some creativity. I don’t speak about the quality of my creativity but it is even smaller. It’s creative. And for that you have not to watch TV you have not to read magazines you have to make your own idea and be completely out of the mainstream of thinking. You are not keen on news and other things like that. It is a way of life. And there is a lot to teach about that.
It is a really interesting project and I shall try to design less and do more this type of things.
I cannot do that…because I never understand when somebody explains something to me. I have not 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 the pilot’s license. Because it is a very interesting game. It is a black or white game, it is life or death.
In our society it is interesting to play a game. I crashed two times but I’m not dead.
Mr Starck did you call Duravit or Duravit called you?
Duravit obliged me. They told me you have to make a new collection.
I love to work with Mr Kook because he is a very serious man. Behind this seriousness there is a fantastic manager. He made Duravit 70 times bigger than it was at the beginning of his management. He’s a good guy and very German.
What would your life have looked like if you hadn’t been commissioned by Mitterand?
The same. My life is like friends. That means friends are cut into two parts in right or left.
It is fifty-fifty. That means when I work for Mitterand I have worked for the left president. That means 50% of the population love me more and the other 50% hate me more. And that is my life. That means people love me too much or hate me too much.
It was good to meet somebody so incredibly intelligent. It is the soul of life. When you speak with somebody like him you understand how a real genius is working.
But that’s all. Nothing changed my life. The only thing that changed my life is my wife. I’m so stupid. I’m always on the same line since I’ve been born. A little stubborn.
Does anybody give you an idea?
I have a new passion, it’s my wife and since one week it is agriculture.
We are very impressed by the new way of thinking and type of agriculture. There are a lot of interesting things.
But if you want to be impressed, it’s easy. It is costly but easy. You spend US$ 6 and you go to TED every year.
And there you will see all the collections of the best brains. And by all these brains you can be impressed. It is a place where people develop intelligence. TED is a master key of humanity.
I’m especially not impressed by le Corbusier.
Every dream, if the dream is good, will be developed. Even if the dreams are not good they are developed. That is a big problem.
When we create something good there is always a good part and a bad part. Everything has a birth, a life and a death. All these ideas have to be developed. And they always will be developed, the good and the bad.
It’s normal to be always in advance of your time. To be just in time is useless. To be delayed is a stupidity. To think in advance is our duty as human beings.
Do you think you’re advanced?
Oh yes, I am very advanced but for useless things. I’m incredibly advanced.
I was locked in a room for five days. Benedikt Taschen, the German editor, wants to make a new big book about me as we have been out of stock now for five years.
I spent these 5 days updating my first designs. I was astonished! There are so many things you can not imagine.
And I realise it was so incredibly in advance and sometimes it was good because it was the right timing to be in the market but a lot of things were too much in advance. When I launched my organic food company OAO 15 years ago. It was clearly too much in advance.
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 3Suisse 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.
I still can feed my children.
Ideas a lot. Because I don’t try to develop everything. Sometimes it is better that these things stay ideas. For projects it is difficult to say. Strangely it is a lot but not that much.
The mess is if you see things that are really good that people really would need. But we fail as we don’t find partners. But you have to know we are incredibly lazy when it comes to making business. We don’t make business. Naturally there is not somebody who says “We want to develop it”. We forget it completely. That was the funny thing about the last 5 days with Benedikt Taschen: To find so many ideas that I had completely forgotten. I made a list of these ideas to put them back on the market, they are really still good.
We are strictly not business men. We never take the phone and say we want to make this and this and that. Because we are so pretentious.
Do you feel pressure to be novel, to be fresh when you come up with new design ideas?
No, I don’t want to make new things and I don’t want to make a new product just because my editors need a new product. My editors know that if they order something from me they always receive something else, even the opposite to what they asked for. But it will be always a success.
Do you remember that lemon squeezer for Alessi? It was designed when Alberto Alessi asked me to design a box to put butter in. I think this is stupid because butter is bad for cholesterol so I made this instead. That’s all.
We are incredibly free. Nobody is more free than us. We work at night and day. I design everything by myself. I can feed my partners for the next 20 years without working.
It is a very modern way to work. We work alone we have very few charming partners. Everything is deeply friendly, deeply harmonious and elegant and that’s all. I think we are the prototype of an elegant and modern organisation for work.
So you produce for a world you do not want to live in?
Because it is the only way to do it. The people who live in the real world make the things. You have to be out of the game to see the game and find new ideas. If you are in the game you are out. You can make intelligent things but you can not have the (clicks his fingers) miracle. It is impossible for me.
You need the dynamism?
No, I need nothing. I am sick. I’m crazy. I need only myself.
What if you could never materialize your ideas?
I don’t care. For me the materialization of ideas is pure necessity, I am obliged to do it. Like you said before, when I have an idea I have the duty to share it. Because I’m not a writer, I’m not a singer so the only way to share it is to produce it. I’m obliged to share and so I do it. But if I was rich and I do not need the money I would stay in my bed the whole day and dreaming non-stop. I am a monk. I can just stay like that and just dreaming and say to my wife “well, I have this idea and this idea…”…
A modern monk…!
Yes, a very modern monk, yes.
When you have these ideas… how does it end and how much do you build?
Some designers hate me because I say to journalists that I can design a chair in 2 minutes. I can make a hotel complete with all the furniture in 1 and a half days … two days when I’m not in a good 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 the things nonstop at the same time. I’ve been doing this for the last 40 years, and suddenly it is finished, it is done. I know it is time. I can show it. That means when the clients are coming to ask me something mainly before I finished with explaining everything is clear.
After we go out for a drink. Everything is ready.
But I am incredibly slow. I am a farmer, I am Chinese lacquer, I wait and nobody pushes me. I am the fastest slow-coach on the market.
This is very personal. It is a way of living which is not very fun, and that is putting it nicely.
We have an incredible life, we have everything we want, we have fame, money, a beautiful wife, and a beautiful place to live and things like that.
But me I never live it because I am always 1 or 2 steps ahead of myself and finally I shall die. Now then it is close. Without living any minute of my life. Because nonstop I’ve lived 5 minutes in advance.
When my wife is tired, I have to foresee what her mood will be, things like that. I’m good at that. In explanation: Now, nobody calls me as I have no phone and PC anymore.
But in former times, when I had a telephone I knew who was ringing. Because when you understand the rhythm of everything, of all your friends, of the world around you.
So that’s why I’m interested in what happens in 50 years and not what happens next year. In 50 years we will, for example, have the post-plastic era. This could cause society to collapse.
That’s why I think we shall start the post-plastic era. 95% of the population do not have this first comfort, but they have plastic.
The plastic wash basin you buy in Africa for example: you wash the children in it in the morning, you make the food for lunch in it and you wash the dishes in the same basin. There are things which cannot be made of anything but plastic. Oil will disappear in 30 years meaning in less than 50 years. Then there will be a gap between people in society as some will have access to plastic and some will not. And nobody works on that at the moment. But we do.
But today nobody works on it because somebody stupid has said there is something bio. Because there is bio-gas there will also be bio-plastic. But I will never accept this. Bio-plastic is a crime against humanity. Because the big famine will arrive in 2020-2022.
I don’t want be the guy in 9 years who makes plastic into something people can eat. That means we have to refuse that. Today when people come and say we should make bio-plastic I say, ok, but prove to me that nobody can eat that product.
Today nobody has proved that it is impossible to eat it. Some people really make good products. One sample comes from the RISA company. You cannot eat RISA.
But the problem is more complex. To produce this RISA you have to use felt. And this felt can be occupied by something you can eat. Today there is no solution. It is a good vision and it is interesting because in 200 years we shall be completely bionic, completely bio-life.
And then the big thing is, when the sun implodes the world will explode. What shall we be in 4 billion years? How and when can we escape when the sun explodes?
We mute and change every day for this reason. Every intelligent product is designed in this direction. It is interesting to think about what we should be. Because today nobody has any clue and me I just propose something which today looks logical: We will transform into algorithms. This is a mathematical question. That is fun. I have no time to live because of all these questions. How can you be so stupid to think always about yourself? We are part of such a beautiful, romantic, poetic story. And it must be used fulltime.
What does your bathroom look like?
My bathroom is always in the bedroom … I cannot imagine having a separate room. We have a bed, two desks, a bathtub (which we use less and less), a shower for 2 people with a fantastic view. Strangely, we love showering with view.
It is part of the life so we have no separate room. That’s why we invented le Salon d´Eau in Paris 17 years ago. It was the idea of having the things – i.e. the shower, bathtub fire place and so on – in one room. It was a big thing and we had a lot of success with that.