“I hate outdoor furniture because it is always so fake, all plastic and soulless”, so began Philippe Starck at the Serengeti’s presentation, the outdoor furniture collection for the American company Janus et Cie on display in a delightful courtyard at Via Borgospesso 7, a cross street of Via Monte Napoleone. “I wanted to create a timeless collection that would respectfully blend into its natural surroundings. You recognise a timeless object when you do not understand whether it belongs to the past, the present or the future. If you do understand it, it is likely to be a trendy object and therefore will fall out of fashion and be discarded: a terrible end! Especially in ecological terms, because longevity is the best possible quality”. The collection is inspired by African nature and consists of armchairs, tables and coffee tables, chaise lounges, sofas and footrests. It is reminiscent of the safari explorations of the 1930s, with its neutral fabrics and teak frames. Indeed, as Starck himself emphasised in his hilarious presentation – interrupted at some point by the bells of a nearby church (“Thank God for scolding me when I exaggerate!”) – a design must have a good dose of adventure within it that makes you dream. “And here comes the miracle: who do you see sitting here on this table? Philippe Starck or Robert Redford? I am sure it is Robert Redford”.
Robby, for the girls
Where is your design vision leading to?
There are different scenarios because there are different speeds, different calendars. Short term: high-tech ecology, social ecology, political ecology. We do that already and we will continue doing it. We have beautiful projects with 2D and 3D plywood and in less than two years we will only use organic plastic, not fossile. We shall continue to produce through artificial intelligence. Mid-term: we work on space, we are now specialists of space. Long term: dematerialization, meaning that everything that everything will disappear and will allow the passage to bionicism. For long term I intend 20 years. It’s been already 40 years that I speak about this concept, so we’re almost there.
Your joyful and playful attitude, “light as a kid”, as you define it: has it changed in the past two years after all the social, cultural and economical changes we have witnessed?
Absolutely not because today it’s almost a trend to speak about that, especially the pandemic. This pandemic is a final and vital disaster and many people died, unfortunately. I should also die because I’m in that target but I don’t care about the pandemic compared to the enormous, violent challenges we have in front of us: weather, new fascisms, and increasing social inequality. It’s like if some people that are in a house on fire start speaking about the problems they have with the lighter. If everybody just speaks about the pandemic no one will speak about things that are way more important. We have to stop speaking about the pandemic.
Talking about spaces, you declared that you offer the public the most complete spiritual notion possible of the spaces they visit. Can you explain further?
Weird, probably it had nothing to do with spirituality, as I fight any type of spirituality every minute of my life or anything that is close to that. And if it comes out I have to kill it.
But you once said that “No one has to be a genius, but everyone has to participate”: is participation something still possible in an ever more individualistic society?
Sure. The first thing we have to do to face the challenges we have in front is self-responsibility. It’s just a matter of doing it, one by one. It’s not about talking, saying that we have to do this or that: just do it. Fight. Don’t vote for Trump. It’s a matter of personal action and understanding. Participation starts from the individual. I love the power of the numbers, but I believe deeply in the power of the one. Is it clear?
Yes, sir! What are your thoughts about this Milan Design Week after two years of stop?
It’s not exactly my territory, because the fair represents the business part. I am not in business, I have no idea about all of that. I make my things, people produce them and other people sell them. My feeling is that before, Italy was alone in design, while today there is a lot of competition, with many countries trying to steal Italy’s design market. To lose such a big fair could be very dangerous because it’s a fair that puts together all this fantastic industry and makes it stronger. If we lose this dynamic the door is open for the wolf. As for this edition on one side doing nothing would have been an absolute disaster. It was really well done, very smart and very convenient, but on the other side it’s not the real fair where you have a market with exchanges, where you buy and sell, where you make deals and orders. In this edition we only have a display on the wall.
Coming to the collection for Janus et Cie: you said you want it to be mimetic.
I said I want it to disappear, but mimetic is a good idea, smarter than what I said.
Ok I start over. I happened to speak about design with random people in a bar
Don’t speak with random people! Unless is for sex.
I happened to speak about design with strangers, in a very peripherical bar in Milan where they had no notion of design or whatsoever, but they knew your Juicy Salif lemon squeezer. You are iconic. How does fame interfere when you want to make an object that “disappears”?
I am not a software of happiness. My life is very very special, we live like monks, on top of a mountain, in the middle of the forest, on the dunes, in the mud, in the waves. There is nobody telling me that I am an icon when I am in the middle of the sea. Sometimes a fish but it’s very rare. I don’t engage with this concept because I have too much lack of self-esteem. I was born despising me. I had the feeling of never being born and never being live, so I don’t care about death. My wife always tells me that I could make anything because I’m not scared by death, and it’s true! If I am not alive, I cannot die. That’s why fame it’s not in my program: I do my job, I make what I can, I am not very proud of what I do, but I try to do it the best way possible because is everything I know, which is sad, and that’s all. In my private life I never speak about my work, nobody speaks about my work. I am the most stupid guy of the tribe, that’s all and it’s ok like that! But alone, at my table, naked, at 7 o’ clock in the morning makes me feel very good.
Do you live in a cave?
I live in a personal cave. I have a dark cave all around me, a great spiral where I try to stay the closest possible to the light but very often I go down down down.