Ever wonder about the origins of what inspires a designer? How does Philippe Starck, the enfant terrible of the design world, and arguably the most internationally recognized product and interior designer, conceive of something new?
Starck has improved a myriad of categories, including now-iconic products for Alessi (Juicy Salif) and Kartell (Louis Ghost Chair) and the interiors of the first boutique hotels -- as well as boats, knives, transit cards and touch-responsive headphones.
So where does it all start? And what does he think of design? We caught up with the French designer in Berlin for the European launch of his latest collection -- his third -- for Axor, the German plumbing company, as he discussed his creative process and the superficiality of the industry. "Design at its best can give you a better life, but first you must have a good life," he says.
Axor Starck Organic commemorates the 20th anniversary of the company's designer collaborations, which premiered with a Starck design (now a best-seller, of course). A collection of 20 pieces will be available in the U.S. in May. The genesis of the creative process, he says, was "I thought the energy of life might be missing. There's nothing more elegant than the body. But what's missing in fixtures is the vegetale reference -- new flowers, trees, the energy of something beginning." The design brings the "on-off" turning mechanism down to the spout, and the water temperature control moves up (remaining at that temperature for the next use), so seemingly intuitive a change that the designer says, "Now I think all other ways to use a faucet are absurd!"
"My work is not to add but to propose the essence of what we need. I stop working when I see it is impossible to make less, when we are at the bone." Apparently that minimal idea carries over to the humble bicycles, which may be replaced soon enough by a hybrid bicycle-scooter, which he just debuted for the city of Bordeaux.
"I am always disappointed with myself -- that's why I keep designing," Starck says. Portrait by Thomas Bilanges.
"Nothing is more elegant than the body," Starck says about his inspiration. The references to the twisting human form are clear when you see the Axor Starck Organic faucets from different angles.
Water from the faucet is delivered through 90 nozzles in a shower-like spray, from a "mixer" which uses 30 percent less material, for greater efficiency and cleaning power.
Mixing work with pleasure: "Once a year in Formentera, Klaus and Philippe Grohe [the Chairman of Hansgrohe and his son, the Axor Brand Manager, respectively] and I have a meeting at my house -- a glass box on a rock on the island -- and we work like that, the three of us, looking at each other," Starck says. The 80-person R&D team at Hansgrohe then transforms his aesthetic ideas to the functional finished products.
Who wants to be stuck on a bike in traffic? Simply step onto the scooter-like platform of the Pibal and whiz through. Starck partnered with Peugeot on this novel hybrid, a commission from the city of Bordeaux.
"Beautiful is just an easy sticker. I don't know what is beautiful. Harmony is more important, the balance of parameters," Starck says. "A bathroom cannot be a trendy product."