Inwhenever Philippe Starck shows up, a small crowd gathers around him. The 73-year-old designer has the status of a pop star – and has been for several decades. Fans of men and women come to him at the Milan furniture fair in June at the Kartell stand, which is famous primarily for its plastic furniture and lining up for selfies. And Starck, a very friendly teddy bear, willingly poses and is not afraid of contact despite Corona. The day before, he presented his interpretation of the Medaillon Diora chair at the Palazzo Citterio in a light and sound show that was as minimalist as it was theatrical. Starck rethinked the iconic Louis XVI chair – designer Christian Dior’s favorite piece of furniture – slimmed down the forms, cast them in metal and gave it a new name: Miss Dior. For an interview at Kartell, a completely complacent, sultry talker shows up in his uniform in an anthracite hooded sweatshirt and black jacket, accompanied by his wife Jasmine Abdellatif, his company’s communications director, who oversees and supervises his meetings .
ICONIST: You have many admirers …
Filip Starck: You know, when you’re young like me, slim, super sexy, cute, you always have fans.
ICONIST: Has it increased over the years?
Starck: No, it was always like that. Sometimes we also have bodyguards.
Jasmine Abdellatif: But it’s nice.
ICONIST: I want to talk to you about the chairs. Do you have any idea how much you’ve designed over the decades?
Starck: No, but do you know why? I have no idea. I have been doing one project a day and for 40 years. It means a certain amount of rockets, planes, chairs, clocks, glasses, everything.
ICONIST: Is there anyone in your studio recording?
Starck: I think someone is following what I am doing.
Abdellatif: We have never done it ourselves, but a few years ago a journalist counted it, and it was then over 10,000 objects.
Starck: But that was ten years ago.
Abdellatif: We counted the prizes and awards. There is 247.
Starck: Surprising sometimesI hate it myself that someone has won 250 career awards – and that career isn’t over yet. This means if I have 250 now it should be 1000 or 2000.
Abdellatif: Then you would have to live 250 years.
ICONIST: What’s going on with your newest chair called HH, Her Majesty, which almost looks like a slender throne?
Starck: Claudio Luti, the owner and CEO of Kartell, is my young old friend. It is very elegant. Both internally and externally. A real aristocrat, a real majesty. Last year he told me: Why don’t you do something very worthy. I liked the idea. Because we, who are on the run, sometimes forget about the notions of dignity and balance. I tried to design a chair that would turn someone without dignity like me into someone worthy like Claudio Luti.
ICONIST: Have you succeeded?
Starck: Don’t you know the difference? I was very ordinary this morning, and now, after sitting in a chair for 30 seconds, I’m not.
ICONIST: How to create a designer dignity?
Starck: That’s easy. You just need to think about who we are, what we have lost and who we should become. Honest, friendly, elegant – not in our clothes, but in dealing with ourselves, with my wife, society and civilization. You have to raise the level of elegance in your mind, we forget about all of this, I am a tough guy myself. I like to make a big wave, I ride a motorcycle, boat, plane, I’m always in the forest, by the sea, in the mud. I’m not very elegant. But all my life I have tried to achieve elegance. Elegance with capital E. Elegance in dealing with others. This is the key. Ethical action. Dreams at a high level. Respect others and yourself. Never lie. insist on your opinion.
ICONIST: How to materialize elegance and balance in a chair?
Starck: Everything means something. Everything has a political meaning, a sexual meaning, everything speaks: colors, materials, lines. It’s my job. I am not a stylist, I am more of a semiotic. Usually this is someone who only deals with the meaning of words and characters. I know the meaning of the words, but I also know the meaning of everything around us. I can explain to you the meaning of each color, the difference between this wood and this wood, they may look similar but they are different. This profession chose me more than I chose it. And by chance, I have something to say. Design is my way of expressing myself. I never design a product just to make a product – that would be boring. It’s very interesting how you can create a kind of universal language. And I created it through my products.
ICONIST: When you reinterpreted the famous Medaillon chair for Dior, what was behind it?
Starck: I shouldn’t be talking about Dior here because we’re with Kartell. But it’s all about longevity, cultural heritage and icons, and the fact that Christian Dior gave this icon a name.
ICONIST: Is sustainability an issue for you or do you think it is overrated?
Starck: First, it cannot be given enough weight. This is an absolutely urgent matter. We only live in one world – and he dies. I am lucky because I was born out of concern for sustainable development. When I was very young, I lived on a small island with no electricity, no anything. I met an American there when I was 17. I asked him: What are you doing? And he said I was an ecologist, an ecologist. It was 50 years ago. I said: What is this? And he explained it to me. I’ve been trying to be one since then.
ICONIST: HH is made of plastic.
Starck: At the very beginning, I made a choice: I am not a believer, I believe in human intelligence. We can create materials that will avoid having to kill animals or trees to get a large piece of wood. That’s why I used plastic, plastic, plastic. And now we have the technology to make sustainable plastic. Everything you see here (points to the chairs around her) is a recycled plastic that can be recycled. Today, plastic is better than anything else. We’re not killing anything. I refuse to kill trees to make solid wood furniture. That’s why I work with glued wood, we call it Smart Wood. Take a look at this: five or six layers less than a millimeter thick. So we use almost no material. For me, it’s sustainable development. But if you want to do something truly organic, you have to ask yourself twice before buying anything. If you’re honest, the answer is no 80 percent of the time. If you really need this item, you have to choose a timeless design made of the right material.
ICONIST: Wouldn’t it make the most sense to bring fewer new products to market?
Starck: We have to design durable products. They should not be a year, not five years, but a lifetime, preferably several generations. It’s important to buy less, produce less, and what you produce must survive. Buying something just because it’s new must stop. We’ve been living up to “Oh, this is new, I want it” long enough. For example, we always switched to the next iPhone model as soon as a new one was introduced, but we stopped doing it. Sustainable development is not an option, it is simply a necessity.