Almost as sprawling as his creativity and imagination, super-designer Philippe Starck’s travels provide him with a humanistic view of life. Fast and brilliant, He lives in Portugal, owns a private plane and sometimes visits three different countries on the same day. However, his favourite journeys are inside his own head.
There is nothing ordinary or run-of-the-mill about Philippe Starck. So, scheduling an interview at 8.30 in the morning is not unusual, nor is his breezy morning mood on the other end of the phone– “Hiiiii!!” – as if he’s been up for ages. And he has. Every day, he and his wife, Jasmine, get up early (sometimes before sunrise), because Philippe’s dreams are the inspiration for his work. He dreams big and bold, which is why he has strategic naps to help the creative process.
Son of an aeronautical engineer, Philippe has been flying since he learned how to walk. “My father was a plane inventor who lived between two worlds and was known for the elegance of his technical solutions. I don’t remember flying with my father, but I remember something more important: I was constantly observing him working and I realized that if you want to have a plane flying you must be creative, and if you don’t want to see that plane falling, you must be rigorous. Since then, creativity and rigour have always been my two parameters.”
He says he’s ashamed for not following in his father’s footsteps, who designed not only planes but also rockets and “incredible things”. “But for some reason, I don’t know why, I decided to design toothbrushes and chairs, whose beauty is definitely not on a par with that of a plane.” Meanwhile, he designed many of the objects and projects that democratised design, which are far too numerous to mention here. Among them were space projects: he was art director of Virgin Galactic, he designed rockets, details at airports and private Airbus “for quite secretive and famous people”, he says. “I am known to be good at working on planes, because many designers have ideas but they don’t really know planes or their technology and can’t have technical ideas, so their designs are often unrealistic.”
Philippe used to fly his own private plane until he had a fright, 20 years ago. “I am a very good pilot, but I am too much of a flâneur. There is no room for dreams when you’re a pilot.” Nowadays, he has a house with a private airport just 15 minutes from Paris. He’s away from home 180 days a year and sometimes visits three countries in a single day. “Very often we organize the meeting in the airport and sometimes in our plane, so we don’t waste time.” For Philippe Starck, it’s also possible to travel without leaving home: “I am a mental traveller. I am a little autistic, so for me travelling is an obligation. An internal trip is a much more interesting and free journey than travelling to different countries, which are more and more the same.” However, he has enthusiastic words for planes and airports. “They are fantastic, it’s a fantastic service, it’s very secure. We just don’t use it in the right way.”
Starck may say this but, in reality, you have to see the world to design for it. He was 22 when he made his first round-the-world trip and has been practically everywhere. For two years, accompanied by his first wife and mother of his first daughter, a lot of things happened to him: “I ended up in jail, I was hunted by killers in India. You know all those things that happen to you when you are young and travelling the world. One day I was in France, I decided to eat a good hamburger. I went to buy the meat but I couldn’t find the bread, so I went to London. But when I arrived in London I realized it was a mistake, because London is good for hot dogs, but not hamburgers. So, I came back to France and I thought that maybe I could go and eat a very good hamburger in the US. So, I went to a cheap travel company, because I had no money, and I asked them where I could find a good hamburger. And they said: ‘San Francisco’. I thought that San Francisco was nice, near the sea, that it would be great to eat a great hamburger in the harbour. When I was buying my tickets, I saw a map of the world hanging on the wall and I realized that it was the first time I really understood the world. I asked the price of the plane ticket from Paris to San Francisco. Then I asked the price of going to San Francisco but traveling the other way around, and it was the same price. So, I decided to go from Paris to San Francisco but by doing a world tour with many stops. I took me two years, and I finally ate my hamburger in San Francisco, which was not fantastic, continued my trip and came back to Europe. I didn’t have any money and I went practically everywhere.” Everyone should do it, we say. “Yes. Everyone. It’s a very hard and strong thing to do, but it should be part of education.”
However, there are still a few places where he’s never been, which he would like to discover. “The centre of Portugal”, he says. “My dream is to take my bicycle and visit the North Centre of Portugal. I love Portugal because of Portuguese people. We have worked everywhere in the world and Portugal is the last place where people have a high level of humanity. Here you find human, honest, hardworking and kind people. That’s why we live in Portugal, because I love people, good relationships and, I repeat, the last country where you have it is Portugal. And they told me that people living in the North Centre of Portugal are even nicer. This is why I want to go.”
He always travels with his wife, Jasmine, and always extra light, even if they’re flying in his own plane. “We can leave for a whole month with only a small bag. We are scientific with bags. For me, it is very easy because I am a motorcycle guy, I never drive cars I only ride motorcycles and bikes, so I am used to wearing very practical clothes: very light fibre carbon shoes, black jeans, some t-shirts, and an efficient motorcycle jacket. All very easy. We don’t have precious bags to put vanities, we just have a regular one. I also always have my iPad Mini with my music, which is important for me, I have everything to work. My pen seems to work anywhere in the world, so I don’t need anything else. And I always take my organic soap and shampoo, because in the hotels the products are not organic and often smell bad.” He doesn’t buy anything because “when you travel you don’t have time and even if you have time to search, you never find interesting things.” The only things he buys are “always something that was made by hand, which is hard to find. This way I show my daughter the talent of people who can work for hours, days and years only with their hands. I am not a specialist of souvenirs, which often after go into the garbage.” No shopping at all? “We don’t have the time to go shopping. We stay the minimum, we go to Tokyo for two hours or to New York for three hours or to Taipei for one hour. Every minute is really counted. So why should we go to Prada in Taipei when we can go to Prada where we live?”
Most weekends, he escapes. “When we arrive, and because we do a world tour almost every week (we wake up very early, at four o’clock in the morning and we leave Cascais [near Lisbon], where we live), we come back home at around three o’clock every Friday afternoon. We pick up our daughter at school and we go directly to Comporta, to Carvalhal [south of Lisbon], where we spend two or three days a week in paradise. We are now building a big farm near Grandola, where we will try to produce the worst wine in the world that only I would enjoy drinking, olive oil, nuts, honey, chicken and eggs. It will be a sort of dream quinta called Figueira Feliz •Happy Fig Tree.” Why did you pick those places? “Because there is nothing, only dunes and forests. I love to be in the middle of nothing, in the middle of nowhere. Here, it’s a very high-quality nowhere because of the few people living in this place. It is one of the most balanced places in the world. It is almost the only place where I feel well and where I feel the truth in everything.”
Now, Philippe Starck is working on his perfume brand, Starck Paris. “It is like flying in the air, it is a very powerful abstraction that can create universes where you can feel more comfortable, more secure. Perfume is the fastest and the most powerful vehicle of emotions to the brain.” They have launched three perfumes, and are working on the next three, followed by another three. When we talked, they were leaving Milan, where they were invited as guest of honour for an international award event for perfumes. “I was very proud and happy to see all these professionals, the best master perfumers in the world, telling me that we did a great job”, which made him very happy. They have also launched an organic beer, S+arck, which he has been working on for four years, which “everybody loves”. The following day, they travelled to the Mediterranean where they worked for a few days on their most recent project: the biggest sailing boat “in history of Humanity”, which is 145 metres long, 130 metres high and 22,000 tons, which make “the most advanced technology boat ever made.”
Essentially, Philippe Starck just wants to make dreams a reality. Humanist by definition, there are no boundaries to creation if it’s for the general good and democracy. He is naturally an idealist, a politician and a thinker, so, he leaves us with a thought for this plane trip: “We were born 4 billion years ago, we were a stupid amoeba, then we became a frog, then a monkey and now we are now a kind super monkey. We are working on civilisation but we are not yet civilised. And the sun will implode in 4 million years and we shall explode. But before that, we have to continue our evolution, our mutation, to become civilised and proud of ourselves. That means life is not pleasure, life is not searching for happiness. Life is working every day with the greatest possible creativity and rigour, with a beautiful eagerness to participate in the beautiful story of our evolution, because we are the only animal species that took control of our own evolution. We should be proud of that, yet we also have to become better than we are today.”
by Patrícia Barnabé /// photo James Bort
web design & development 262media.com