Playing with Philippe Starck

Designer Philippe Starck talks to Dazed Digital about his latest project for Dedon, democratising design and this week's opening in Bilbao

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Try to find just one definition to describe Philippe Starck and you will probably spend an entire day without managing to come up with an answer. So far Starck has been an architect, interior, accessory and clothes designer, and one of the first supporters of the currently ever-so-trendy ethical and ecological lifestyle. Last month at Milan’s International Furniture Fair Starck presented a project he designed for Dedon, the producer of hand-woven indoor and outdoor furniture. “Play with Dedon” includes the lightweight and stackable “Play” chair-armchair,which can be redesigned to achieve a personal fit, ordered online or produced upon request, the tables “Bistro”, in porcelain ceramic and moulded polypropylene, and “Dining”, in mirror-finish aluminium, and the lamps “Superarchimoon Outdoor” and “Romeo 3 Outdoor”, developed in collaboration with Flos. The main concept behind this new collaboration is very simple: liberating design while creating pieces that can make people happy. 

Dazed Digital: What prompted this collaboration with Dedon?
Philippe Starck: You are right to wonder ‘Why another chair?’ Well, it’s about love. To have beautiful children, parents must be in love. There is no successful project without a strong human component. The only goal of a project must be the profit for people, the human dimension. To be successful you must wonder how a project can help our friends, our tribe, to have a better life. This project is about intelligence, generosity, respect, tenderness, visions, humour, love, poetry, it’s about all these immaterial parameters. I met Dedon founder and chairman Bobby Dekeyser through Nicolas Rapetti. Bobby created a complete universe, really modern and human. Play with Dedon reflects this as it combines the best technology and the best craftsmanship. The manufacturing process is also based on ethical principles. The idea was to have a base, with or without armrest, and then play with it, so that people can be able to create their own item. I guess the most challenging part of this process was making sure the balance of technology and craftsmanship resulted in a good product. Other than that, the entire process was a real good journey, with everybody in the team working in the same direction to create a playful collection.

DD: Freedom is at the core of your philosophy: do you feel that freedom has changed also our habits concerning interior design as companies trying to impose a product on consumers often failed, while the offer multiplied and consumers started making their own choices?
Philippe Starck: Freedom is the only style. That is why I never speak about beauty or beautiful products but “good products” that are not the ones marketed by very smart marketing departments of companies whose goal is to steal the money of what they call target consumers. Nowadays, we have to face so many challenges: economic, religious, political and also ecological, so it is not really a priority to care for beauty. The only way for us is to focus on an ethic and ecological behaviour, because we don’t have any further choices. Fifteen years ago, I developed the Good Goods Catalogue in collaboration with La Redoute, conceiving it as the catalogue of the non-products for the non-consumer of the future moral market. Hopefully, people will start understanding what they are offered and asking themselves ‘Do I need to buy this product?’ I think refusal is the first good act.

DD: Can design be political?
Philippe Starck: I do not know why I design, somehow design chose me. But I think design is a very weak tool: a politician can change the world with one law, a journalist with one article, but what can you do with design? This is why I created object after object and place after place, trying to come up with something more than just design. There has always been a strong political statement in all my creations: from the Good Goods catalogue I already mentioned you to the mail order wooden house that was meant to show the terrible law in France which allowed construction companies to sell houses without architects under a certain cost, ruining in this way the landscape. Of course, there is also the democratisation of design I started 30 years ago: I’ve always fought to give the best to people by striving to reduce the price while increasing quality. When I started working, the price of a designer chair hovered around the equivalent of 1,000 Euros, now you can find very good ones at less that 100 Euros. I recently continued along these lines with the personal wind-turbine “Democratic Ecology” and I’m currently developing Democratic Ecological Architecture to offer good affordable wooden houses.

DD: Throughout your career you developed very different projects, from furniture to clothing and accessories: is there a product you would like to develop that may change and improve our lives?
Philippe Starck: I have no desire to develop more products. Future is about dematerialisation. Dematerialisation is in fact one of my main focuses: you can see it in the Louis Ghost chair, in the elegance of minimalism in my watches, in the yacht I created. Ideally, I’d like to create useful things without using materiality as all materiality is vulgar. As far as interior design is concerned, everything will disappear slowly: curtains shall be replaced by liquid crystal windows, while the natural evolution regarding mankind will be bionism.

DD: In your opinion, what’s a designer’s role in the current economic climate?
Philippe Starck: To serve and offer a better life to its tribe by being political and ecological.

DD: A while back you launched the research consultancy The Key: has it proved a useful tool for Asian entrepreneurs?
Philippe Starck: The research consultancy was first started to teach Asian subcontractors to become creators and set up their own brands in order to stop being the slaves of the West. Success was quick to come, but the thing is that in the end, each client wanted to develop a Starck brand! The project was launched over ten years ago, I guess I was too early and now we have a lot of famous Asian brands.

DD: What are you working on at the moment and what future projects do you have on your agenda?
Philippe Starck: To continue democratic ecology with solar boats and implement democratic ecological architecture with the first prototype that will be ready in early 2011. This week we are also opening the renovated Alhóndiga, an amazing centre for life and culture in the heart of Bilbao. We’re also working on a port in Palma and we’re opening the new Royal Monceau in Paris in a couple of months’ time.

The new spaces of the Alhóndiga de Bilbao designed by Philippe Starck will open May 20.

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