Phillipe Starck

Philippe Starck was in Milan because he’s always in Milan. And because he was presenting a design award. The eternal rebel proclaims: ‘If I were young now, I would choose a different profession.’

Left Phillipe Starck. Right Marcel Wanders fotocredits James Stokes 

You’re here at the invitation of Marcel Wanders and Casper Vissers, founders of Moooi, to present the Frame Moooi Award 2012. A couple of years ago someone at Identity Magazine wrote that ‘if Philippe Starck is the Groucho Marx of design, then Wanders is Elvis Presley.’
‘What on earth is that supposed to mean?’

Groucho Marx was famous for his contrarian
humour, his anarchistic acid wit. You’re not exactly a conformist either.
‘Oh, I’m not sure that’s really me.’

What is true about both Marcel Wanders and
you is that you don’t hide behind your designs – you come out with hefty
statements. Not just about design, but also about culture, politics and the way
the world is going.

‘But of course! What’s the point of creating something if there is no vision
behind it? I don’t trust a designer who won’t talk about his drives and motivations.
If there is one thing the world needs it’s more vision, not more products.’

You once described human evolution as a slow
and faulty process of trial and error.
‘Over 4 billion years ago the beginnings of
life accidentally emerged out of an explosive cocktail. The very first tiny
organisms were initially so stupid that they didn’t even know how to reproduce.
But they eventually succeeded. Mr and Mrs Fish then crawled onto the land,
evolved into land animals. Ultimately we turned into what we are now: a

That supermonkey has now reached the limit
of his potential?
course not. We are the only species that has taken its fate into its own hands,
used its intelligence. The power to create, our poetry and our sense of beauty
make us better than other species: they’re still grazing in the fields.’

What happens next in the story? ‘That’s something we cannot know. What I do know is that we
have to try harder to understand the world. That is our duty as human beings.
When I look around me I get worried. I see champagne-swilling supermonkeys
without any clue where they come from or where they’re going. The euro crisis
is not the real problem. The lack of any vision of the future is much more terrifying.
We have to keep dreaming of Utopia and try to make that dream a reality.’

And Philippe Starck will help us with that? ‘Everyone will, I hope. I’m not a
genius; I’m not that intelligent, at least not in the conventional sense of the
word. I’m no Einstein or Ptolemy. But I have other talents: extremely good
intuition. There are no parameters for the future, and even that is an exciting
idea. That we can take our own fate into our hands, by digging deeper
scientifically, or by striving for more romance or more elegance.’

More elegance: we’ve finally arrived at the
field in which you’ve earned a living for the last 40 years: design.
‘Every object, be it a lemon squeezer,
a bicycle or a table, conjures up images and associations. Through the object
the designer defines his position in relation to the future, society, and the
direction he wants to take. But that applies to everyone, even the plumber. To
give your all is to contribute to our intelligence, to lead us a couple of
steps further down the unpredictable path of evolution.’

You’re saying we have to reinvent ourselves
and the future?
complex times in which we live are forcing us to. Look at it as an opportunity.
The technological ingenuity, the intelligence and creativity of the younger
generation are amazing instruments. But we cannot wait too long: it has to be
done quickly and with commitment. If we take up this fight, in 20 years or so
we may be able to clamber back onto the podium we’ve fallen from. If we shrug
it off, our species will be swept off the stage for good: over and out.’

Over the last several years you’ve
emphasized that you’re actually not interested in products but in ideas. Yet
Starck Inc. comes up with an unending stream of new chairs, wash basins,
motorbikes and what not. A paradox?
‘More a weakness. People hide behind the
things they buy. We’re handicapped by consumerism and materialism: the more
object, the less human!’

You’ve lost me, I’m afraid. ‘Once upon a time, long ago, I
stumbled into this profession: designer. I earn my living with it and derive
pleasure from it. But it’s not particularly useful. If I were young now, I
would choose another profession. To really accomplish something you need a
weapon. Design is not a weapon; at most it’s an instrument. In the course of my
career I’ve taken a lot of tiny steps forward. I hope the young designers of
today have the courage to take bigger, more fundamental steps. For myself I’ve
reached the point where I ignore trends and aesthetics.’

You personally judged 891 entries for the
award. Did the competitors understand your message?
‘I was impressed by the level of quality:
there were a lot of things with actual relevance, poetry, political urgency,
humour. In a word: humanistic design. I would advise designers who aspire to
the fashion designer or artist persona to choose another profession. Forget all
that. Go and save the world instead.’

Starck (b. 1949, Paris),

This interview is published in EH&I September 2012 in Dutch.
Dit intwerview is geplaatst in EH&I September in het Nederlands