PHILIPPE STARCK has said that he can design a chair in two minutes and a hotel in a day-and-a-half. Preferring to work alone, the Frenchman has designed thousands of products, interiors and buildings for clients ranging from Microsoft to Baccarat. In conversation with ALISON BEARD
What's the secret to working so quickly and productively?
I am sort of modern monk. My wife and I have a collection of cabins in the middle of nowhere, and we stay out of everything.
From the 15th of June to the 15th of September, I live completely secluded, working from eight in the morning to eight at night, or making my own biorhythm: work three hours, sleep 45 minutes, work three hours, sleep 45 minutes for 24 hours without eating. It's a little sick.
But I'm like Dr. Faust. I signed a contract with the devil to sell my life for creativity.
To manage so much, you must need to delegate.
My way is to not delegate. I design everything very precisely, so when I give my team a project, there is nothing to do except crystallise it: put it on the computer because I work with only paper and pen and make the prototype.
Then I see the prototype and check everything. I'm a control freak. I have very few people working for me, it’s a nano-team.
Some people I've had for 30 years, and I chose them just by intuition. They might have no background in design, but they have intelligence, elegance, honesty.
What qualities do you look for in your clients?
First, ethics. Thirty years ago, when ethics was not so fashionable, I decided that I wouldn't work for weapons, alcohol, cigarette, tobacco, gambling or oil companies or religious organisations. That's a hard position to take, because it's a big group, and they're the people with the money. But I shall not change.
Second, the project has to be good not just for me and the client but also for the final user.
When you work for human profit, you will have success. Third, I have to fall in love with the client. If you want beautiful children, the parents must be in love.
What's been your biggest frustration about working with large companies?
When you sign an agreement and before the project is finished, the person in front of you has changed two times. You start, everything goes well, then suddenly the president moves to another company and you're in the middle of the river alone, and everything is bad. The few failures I've had in my life were because of this.
How do you persuade reluctant clients to embrace your more radical ideas?
I'm very good at explaining. I don't work like a diva. I don't say, "That must be pink”, and refuse to discuss it. I arrive with something that is well-thought-out, very seriously done. I am the king of intuition.
But I am also a serious guy. I explain in a clear way. And then, even if it's something that looks different than expected, something completely against mainstream thinking, clients understand.
One of your first jobs was working with fashion designer Pierre Cardin.
Yes, I was 17. But very fast I realised we were opposites. My idea was to make a million chairs at $1, and his idea was to make one chair at $1 million. So I left.