Architectural and product designer Philippe Starck has created more than 10,000 designs, from chairs and clocks to hotels and yachts — even a fly swatter. His best-known pieces are his translucent Louis Ghost chair and Juicy Salif lemon squeezer. He has worked on numerous hotel projects, including the St Martin’s Lane in London and the Los Angeles Mondrian and most recently has branched into perfume with Peau d’Ailleurs.
Why did you choose to go into design?
I am (hopefully at a low level) autistic and I cannot do anything else except create things. I didn’t chose design — it chose me more than I chose it. Probably because my father was an aircraft engineer — the Starck planes — creativity was natural to me. It was the easy way but I do it with the highest possible goal: design is useless in the sense that it does not save lives but it can somehow better life.
How would you characterise your style?
Total freedom. Aesthetics does not interest me. Only the service to the final user counts. I see any project as primarily an abstract question that must be answered in order to help improve the life of my friends, my family and my community too.
Name your top three influences
I am inspired by the evolution and passion of humans. Ptolemy, and Leonardo da Vinci — the greatest designer, I think, though Eratosthenes may be even better. Two hundred years BC, Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the earth with only a 2 per cent error, using a camel, a well and a 30cm wooden stock. That’s design. That’s genius. Plato, too. At a time when everyone believed the world was flat, Plato saw an eclipse and wrote to a friend: “I saw the shadow of the earth yesterday. It’s round.” He was right, yet no one paid attention and it’s extraordinary because it was several centuries before Galileo. These people are great models.
What has been your favourite project?
The next one is my favourite. I have a self-confidence problem and I am always ashamed of what I have done, which is a good reason to continue.
If you weren’t allowed to, who would design your home for you?
I do not think it is healthy to call upon an interior designer for your home. But, if I was obliged to, no doubt I would choose Antonio Citterio. He is the king of timeless elegance.
Is there anyone in your field you particularly admire?
As I don’t admire design as a field, I find it hard to admire people who work in it. I shall keep my admiration for scientists who deserve it!
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
What is the strangest request you have had?
A coffin. I am not sure that dead people need my design.
What do you look for in a client?
To be loveable, I think. I need to fall in love with my clients, otherwise I feel I have less reason to create.
What is the most challenging aspect of designing a living space?
You have to try very hard not to fall into the vicious trap of trends. Never think about aesthetic. Only think about life and how it will be lived in.
Your lemon squeezer is one of your best known pieces. How did it come about and what was the inspiration behind it?
I designed my lemon squeezer on a paper tablecloth because I was bored waiting for a pizza. It was a mathematical exercise of reversed topology applied to juicing lemons.
What do you most regularly turn to for inspiration?
I don’t turn to anything really. I just fly to my own subconscious. There is infinite material there — enough to feed me for ever.
What do you think is more important in design: form or function?
All the different functions, even the humblest should be prioritised. I never thing about form.
What would you say is the main trend in product design?
Trends are odd. We always believe that a trend will last for ever but I never see a trend surviving more than three years. Sadly, all the latest trends are retro, which is a loss for our culture and society. I’m not interested in trends but if I had to define the next one, perhaps it should be something to do with cavemen.
Photographs: Starck; Francisco Berreteaga Escudero; Gustavo Queipo de Llano Moya; Alamy