Milano Design Week

Salone del Mobile and Fuorisalone 2024

Stop making trends: a chat with Philippe Starck at the Salone

We met Monsieur Design, and a number of clichés have just fallen to pieces: the enfant terrible, the end of an era, AI and trends to follow, to name a few.

Do we still need to introduce Philippe Starck? No.
Is it because he’s just doing the same thing over and over again, right? No. Seven years ago, he produced for Kartell his first chair designed with the help of artificial intelligence; this year, he expands the collection with a console table for Illy. These pieces not only embody the quintessential “Kartell spirit” of innovation and aesthetics but also encapsulate what could be termed as the “Starck aesthetic”, although the ethos driving this aesthetic harkens back to an era of design history, when artificial intelligence belonged to the realm of science fiction, and France championed the Minitel as the heralded alternative to the World Wide Web.

Starck is in the flow, a dynamic force that both participates in and shapes the spirit of his era. He stands as a venerable master who builds his chair only to flip it upside down before everyone’s eyes, perching on the windowsill in the corridor, talking from outside the door. Why? Because the sight of the coat hangers might hold something unexpectedly intriguing.

We are geniuses. Humans are geniuses, but childlike geniuses. There’s no limit to our intelligence and creativity, but because we’re childish, we love toys, and sometimes we don’t really control toys.

Philippe Starck

Philippe Starck, A.I. Console, Kartell, 2024. Photo Daniele Ratti

Over the years, the term enfant terrible too has often been applied to describe his disruptive emergence onto the scene. But he’s careful to contextualize it in very Starck terms: “Before me, the market was dominated by incredibly elegant and intellectual designers. I came in like a shit (lit.) and made a kind of disrespectful revolution that still didn’t change the market: it’s just a matter of evolution.” And a matter of getting along – or clashing with – an interconnected cultural system, a design system that, at the time of Starck’s debut, did not necessarily speak his language. A gradual change began to take shape in the same years that his long relationship with Domus began, the ’80s, the Mendini years.

“I think the best thing about Alessandro was him," Starck told us of the legendary designer and first post-Gio Ponti director at Domus: “He was fascinating, hypnotizing. This short man with a strange face and big eyes, this (deep) voice: I never understood anything he said. I knew the music, the sound was more important, although what he said was very important". What may sound like a joke is actually the platform from which Starck developed the concept of his tribute installation for I am a dragon, the exhibition dedicated to Mendini at the Triennale Milano: he focused on giving the feeling that everyone had in front of Mendini, a powerful vibe, “the brain of Alessandro, the magma, the fantasy, the seriousness, the rigor and the madness, all mixed together” in an incomparably kind person, “a dragon, a flash.”

And what about today? Is it some kind of end-of-an-era scenario, between evolving technologies, shifting economic priorities, and reference figures who suddenly pass away, like Gaetano Pesce and Italo Rota? “You ask me, will I be the next? Yes, I will!” Starck replied – disclaimer: we would never have thought of such a thing – but it’s not the end of an era, he added, it’s the same evolutionary context in which he was born: other people will come, and the help of AI will make the difference. And “help” means assistance, not replacement, at a time when concepts like machine-based non-creative writing are taking over the cultivated debate by fascination: machines are smarter than we are, but not as crazy, and the irrational moment when ideas pop out of nowhere is the core of creation, Starck noted. Then comes the other side of the AI-human relationship: “We are geniuses. Humans are geniuses, but childlike geniuses. There’s no limit to our intelligence and creativity, but because we’re childish, we love toys, and sometimes we don’t really control toys. Every time human beings produce something, these things always have a good part and a bad part. When Einstein and Bohr invented the atom (sic), it was the most beautiful invention: energy forever and for everyone, but at the same time they made the bomb. Then the hope we can have in it is us: we’re still alive. If we are still alive today, it means that there is finally more good than bad in everything we invent. AI will be exactly the same. AI is not the enemy. We are our own enemy. It all depends on what we’re going to do.”

Philippe Starck at the Salone del mobile in Milan, 2024. Photo Daniele Ratti

And it’s not even about shifting trends, Starck stated. The most sought-after creator through the golden era of the design star system, leaves no room for doubt: “Design has been ruined by trends over the last 15 years. Design in the sense that your table, your chairs will be thrown in the garbage after two months will be your problem if millions of people do it. This means that ’timeless’ is a core concept in design and we have to fight any kind of trend in design. The only movement we have to continue is ecology-economy.”

So what is it that Philippe Starck hasn’t designed yet and would like to?
“First, I would like to design peace in the war between Russia and Ukraine. Then something to prevent war between China and the United States. I want to return a territory to the Palestinian people without harming the Israeli people. I want to fight the narco-economy. I want to fight the extreme right. I want to fight the mafia. I want to fight all this: this is my project. But you can sleep well. I have no tools, no weapon to do it. That’s it. I am absolutely impotent.”
And that is a design issue.
“Yes, it is.”

Opening image: Philippe Starck, photo Daniele Ratti

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