Designer and architect
Born January 18, 1949, in Paris, France; son of André (an airplane designer) and Jacqueline (Lanourisse) Starck; married Brigitte Laurent (died, 1992); married Nori Vaccari, April, 2000; children: Ara (first marriage), Oa (with photographer Patricia Bailer), K. (second marriage). Education: Studied in Ecole Nissim de Camondo in Paris, France.
Studio —18/20 rue du Faubourg du Temple 75011, Paris, France.
Started a company that specialized in designing inflatable furniture, 1968; design team, La Main Bleue Club, Paris, France, 1976; design team, Les Bains Douches Club, Paris, 1978; founded Starck Products, 1979; part of design team for France's president's private residence, Paris, France, 1982; founded UBIK, 1983; designer, Royalton Hotel, New York, NY, 1988; designer and architect, Paramount Hotel, New York, NY, 1990; designer and architect, Delano Hotel, Miami, FL, 1996; designer and architect, Mondrian Hotel, Los Angeles, CA, 1996; designer and architect, Hudson Hotel, CA, 2003.
Oscar du luminaire, France, 1980; three awards at Neocon, Chicago, IL, 1986; Delta de Plaia à Barcelona, Spain, 1986; Platinum Circle Award, Chicago, United States, 1987; Grand Prix National de la Création Industrielle, Paris, France, 1988; Officier des Arts et des Lettres, Paris; Design–Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen, Germany, 1995; Primero Internacional de Diseno Barcelona, Spain, 1995; Harvard
If you go to Philippe Starck's online store you'll find the following product categories, all designed by Starck himself: tables, luggage, chairs, watches, books, armchairs, stationery, tableware, lamps, radios, televisions, stools, bath accessories, fine art, and even his own organic food line in packaging designed, of course, by Starck. His range of design is impressive by any standard. During Starck's 25–year career, he has applied his unique sense of design to everything from a waste management center in Paris to international hotels to paper towel dispensers. No matter what he focuses his efforts on, one gets the sense that he is playing with what is familiar to us and adding his aerodynamic, organic design to see what happens. The philosophy behind his style has always catered to the masses—good–looking but manufactured at a low cost. He has made it his life's work to change people's perception that good design is only for the wealthy or an extravagance. "When I started I was shocked that the objective of design was to create very beautiful objects to be sold to very rich people in very fancy boutiques," he told Dana Thomas of Newsweek. "Why couldn't these people see the vulgarity in what they were doing? I wanted to do the opposite. If I had a good idea, I wanted to give it to a million people." And he practices what he preaches. His idea of design for the masses has found life with an historic partnership with the Target superstores, placing his cutting–edge products on their shelves.
Starck is the son of an airplane designer, Andre Starck. The elder Starck's job was to think of new uses for old designs, to take fundamental designs that already existed and make them better. Perhaps this is one of the reasons his son, Philippe, is accustomed to redesigning our world. The young Starck started to show signs of an unusual eye for design from an early age. He played in his father's large workshop, which was filled with machinery, engines and spare parts that were irresistible to a curious boy. Starck's version of playtime was dismantling the machinery and putting it back together in his own way, much like his father. It was an inclination that would shape the rest of his life.
Starck, born to a well–off family that provided for him, might have shown a lot of promise at home in the workshop, but in the world around him he had a hard time fitting in. He was a recluse in school, unable to get along with his peers and, eventually, avoided going to school altogether whenever he could. "I was completely unable to adapt to society and school," he told People. "I spent my youth escaping."
Things did not get better for him quickly. He showed signs of depression and as he grew older he still felt like an outcast. His one escape was in his hobby. But the hobby of dismantling and remaking known objects was about to become his life's blood. His interest in working with known objects took a turn toward design when he was in his teens and he attended the prestigious school Ecole Nissim de Camondo. By the time he graduated he was considered by everyone who saw his work to be a promising new talent on the design scene. Typically for Starck, he wished to work on something cutting edge so he started a company in 1968 that specialized in designing inflatable furniture. The company did not go very far but it succeeded in getting his work out in the public eye.
Starck's eye was very natural. He liked lines in his furniture that were natural and smooth. There were other designers of the time who had a similar taste, but Starck's talent was beginning to shine and some of the big names in design were beginning to take notice. He secured an apprenticeship for Pierre Cardin in 1969, which was good for his career and also helped him put in perspective what his own tastes were. Working with Cardin's opulent—and some would say gauche—plans made Starck see what he did not want to do. Cardin's style was a turn–off for Starck and made him more determined than ever to unleash simpler lines on the world.
Even with his innate shyness Starck was beginning to blossom socially. The design world welcomed his odd mixture of personal brooding and enthusiasm for his work, traits that had made him unpopular in school. The young designer found some comfort in the aloofness of the Paris nightclub scene and, naturally, had many ideas about how the clubs themselves could improve their look. Soon, Starck found a professional niche in the Paris nightclub scene in the 1970s and gained a minor reputation with interior designs for the clubs La Main Bleue in 1976 and Les Bains Douches in 1978.
By the late 1970s Starck felt his career was not moving as fast as he wanted it to. Andy Warhol, the Manhattan–based artist, had essentially made himself a brand in the art world. Starck believed that the design industry could use a good hit of the same irony. The young designer was getting a sense of how to market himself and was slowly gaining a reputation for being a very talented (and self–serving) character in the design world. He started his own company in 1979, calling it Starck Products.
Finally, in 1982, the young designer got his big break. French president Francois Mitterrand hired him to be part of the design team on his private residence in Paris. It was a prestigious job that took his career to the next level. Not only was the president happy with the results but so was the public. With some wind at his back Starck started to secure more jobs, of note being the Café Costes restaurant which sported a spectacular staircase and Starck–designed furniture. The Costes look got the design world so excited that the Starck name began to spread and a feverish trend began in Paris. Cafes are a crucial part of life in France and competition is fierce. After Café Costes, every café in Paris had to set itself apart. Starck had started a craze and he was at the forefront of it. For the first time in his life he was able to pick the jobs that were interesting to him.
Throughout the 1980s Starck built on his reputation as the rock star of the design world. Both he and his designs were everywhere. He offered interviews to the mainstream press, which was unheard of at the time, and focused on selling himself as the "people's designer." His sense of self–marketing was refined and he was making a lot of people in his business both resentful and jealous. His success at making himself a brand confounded a community that considered itself above such nonsense. But Starck, aware of the irony of a designer being a celebrity, was out to prove something and he was not going to let the old guard slow him down.
Starck entered the next stage of his career when he partnered with American hotelier and Studio 54 co–founder Ian Schrager to design a number of hotels, including the Delano in Miami, Florida, and the Mondrian in Los Angeles, California. The projects were all huge endeavors involving hundreds of millions of dollars. They all involved creating new buildings or renovating old landmarks, both tricky and expensive endeavors. But, for the most part, his hotel work went over very well and his reputation was only furthered by his efforts. His hotels were compared to theater, with dramatic entrances and funny details that walked a fine line between tasteful and silly.
But Starck entered the big time when he broke into the western mainstream with a deal that partnered his company with the Target line of stores. Target wanted him to do a line–up of home accessories exclusively for their store. "Good design can and should be part of everyday life. I'm always looking for magic in reality," he told People. "For the same price, you can give a lot more love and respect and service to people." With the Target deal, Starck got to put the philosophy behind his art to the test.
Though he had been known in select circles a number of years, now he was a household name. The Starck Reality line of products included more than 50 items, such as toothbrushes and magazine racks. He told Retail Merchandiser, "My goal in this democratization of design is to make possible the most joyful and exciting experiences for the maximum number of people." He continued to deliver on his promise to make the Starck look accessible to everyone.
Starck's design philosophy is deeply felt and he gets very animated when he has an opportunity to talk about why he does what he does. He might seem like he is overdoing it but in interview after interview his enthusiasm for design and its effect on people shines. To Starck, the influence of design in our daily lives cannot be overestimated. He told Susannah Meadows of Newsweek, "A nice object will never change the life of somebody, but it helps. Everything around us has an influence on our subconscious. It will not bring back the husband, but it can send a sign of intelligence and poetry and humor."
Though he swore he would never design retail spaces he changed his tune after meeting with fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who was looking for someone to craft the space of a 2,300–square–foot, first–floor brownstone on New York City's Madison Avenue. The two met a few times and Starck was impressed with how well Gaultier understood the philosophies that drive his design. "I didn't feel that fashion retail was my territory," Starck told Sheila Kim of Interior Design, "but Jean Paul became like a brother." The result was a partnership that created a uniquely sparse space on a city avenue that is not known for its understatement. The two men remain close friends.
Starck met his second wife, Nori Vaccari, a former New York school teacher, in 1998 at a Manhattan party. The two hit it off immediately. Starck opened up to her in a way that surprised even him. The two dated for three years before getting married in April of 2000 in Paris. They had a child, named simply K., and make their home in a loft in Paris, France. It is an ever–evolving space and Starck would have it no other way. "Things arrive, they settle, eventually they're replaced," he told People. "People try to finish things and don't realize that what they're finishing is their tomb. You always have to leave room for chance and necessity and relativity."
Some celebrities like to claim that success didn't change them, but Starck would probably find that boring. He wears his success in a uniquely Starck way. He makes notes on plastic paper that's made just for him. He has many homes around the world which reveal that his life is as eclectic as his designs, including a huge New York City apartment, an oyster farm in France, and a house on the Seine next to a nudist camp. He has a staff just to make sure each house has the same items as the other houses, even the same books. Perhaps the best example of how Starck handles success can be found in the fact that he refuses to do business with companies that Starck deems harmful to people. Among these blacklisted companies are ones that deal in oil, tobacco, games, and alcohol. He claims to have lost a lot of money because of his strict standards but, according to him, he does not need any more money.
In Frankfurt, Germany, in 2002, he launched his Starck 3 collection for Duravit, a collection of bath utilities and accessories. Continuing his theme of design for the people, he told a crowd of about 900 people, as quoted by Aric Chen of Interior Design, "It's not just about bathrooms and ceramic parts. It's a political and strategic action." His speech to launch the line of products contained an enthusiastic line that caused a bit of a stir. "I hereby declare the design war over and won. Attractive products of good quality are being made everywhere today."
But in the midst of his enthusiasm he also claims to be depressed most of the time. He still struggles with the insecurities that made him a recluse as a child. His world view is more sophisticated now but, in the end, Starck has clearly embraced nihilism. He told his Frankfurt audience, "All the things that we hold true, such as the moon, the sun, and the stars, do not exist. Nothing exists. I am afraid, like everyone else."
But, with a strong work ethic and a mission, he has found the energy to work on. The fine balance between the lightness of his work and the seriousness of his philosophy is perhaps best summed up in an answer he gave Newsweek 's Thomas when the journalist asked him what design he was most proud of. "The next one," Starck replied. "Because I am never, ever satisfied with what I've done."
La Main Bleue, Paris, France, 1976.
Les Bains Douches, Paris, France, 1978.
Private residence, Elysée Palace, Paris, France, 1982.
Café Costes, Paris, France, 1982.
Manin Restaurant, Tokyo, Japan, 1986.
Café Mystique, Tokyo, Japan, 1986.
Concert Hall La Cigale, Paris, France, 1987.
Royalton Hotel, New York, NY, 1988.
Paramount Hotel, New York, NY, 1990.
Teatriz Restaurant, Madrid, Spain, 1990.
Groningen Museum, Holland, 1994.
The Peninsula Restaurant, Hong Kong, China, 1994.
Delano Hotel, Miami, FL, 1995.
Theatron Restaurant, Mexico City, Mexico, 1995.
Mondrian Hotel, Los Angeles, CA, 1996.
Asia de Cuba Restaurant, New York, NY, 1997.
Saint Martins Lane Hotel, London, England, 1999.
Mikli glasses shop, Paris, France, 1999.
Bon Restaurant, Paris, France, 2000.
Sanderson Hotel, London, England, 2000.
Hudson Hotel, New York, NY, 2000.
Clift Hotel, San Francisco, CA, 2001.
Miramar Hotel, Santa Barbara, CA, 2003.
Eurostar train, 2003.
Laguiole knife factory, Paris, France, 1988.
Nani Nani building, Tokyo, Japan, 1989.
Baron Vert building, Osaka, Japan, 1992.
Asahi building, Tokyo, Japan, 1989.
Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, France, 1995.
Bordeaux Airport air traffic control tower, Bordeaux, France, 1997.
Sanderson Hotel, London, England, 2001.
Incineration plant, Paris, France, 2004.
Georges Pompidou Museum, Paris, France.
Arts Décoratifs Museum, Paris, France.
Villa Medicis, Rome, Italy.
Museum of Munich, Germany.
Museum of Frankfurt, Germany.
Museum of Düsseldorf, Germany.
Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan.
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Design Museum, London, England.
Vitra Design Museum, Basel, Switzerland.
Vanity Case, travelling exhibition, 2002.
Georges Pompidou Museum, Paris, France, 2003.
Australian, March 1, 2002; March 22, 2002.
Interior Design, April 2002, p. 262; October 2002, p. 144.
Newsweek, April 1, 2002, p. 58; April 22, 2002, p. 12.
People, April 2002; November 25, 2002, p. 135.
Retailing Today, April 22, 2002, p. 4.
Retail Merchandiser, May 2002, p. 12.
Smithsonian, November 2002, p. 43.
Time, August 30, 1999.
Times, June 26, 2003.
"About Philippe Starck," Cosmoworlds.com , http://www.cosmoworlds.com/philippe–starck.html (August 28, 2003).
"Biography," Philippe Starck Online, http://www.philippe–starck.com (August 28, 2003).
"Philippe Starck and design and technology," Designtechnology.org , http://www.design–technology.org/starck1.htm (August 28, 2003).
"The World is Not Enough," New York Magazine Online, http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/arts/columns/culturebusiness/1694/index.html (August 28, 2003).
— Ben Zackheim