The Fashion Edit: Starck’s democratic approach to design

Understanding design is more of a luxury than the design itself; even more so the fact that the quality of design has solved a problem in the environment we dwell in. Just last week, I was reminded of this approach to design – that I am an ardent fan of – by none other than the legendary Philippe Starck. I wanted to write on this topic a little later, maybe a few weeks from now in the chronos of time, as it is one of my favourite subjects within the design spectrum; but since the legend was in town and I happened to spend some time with him, it will be amiss if I don’t celebrate the man and the basis of his approach here.

Designers, a lot of the time, from fashion to products, do tend to take themselves too seriously and in that they forget the core of that profession or the stream that they got attracted to or are passionate about. Design, if it is not responsible to provide a solution through an expression, will always be incomplete. The solution could be required within a bare wall or a stark dining table or within the four walls of a space which is longing to connect with your emotions. Whether emotional or rational, design in its true sense, is seeking to solve a problem; and within the success of that design is the appreciation for the protagonist who performed that feat of creativity and made the expression manifest. But it is always about the solution.

We can always check the efficacy of it all by looking at the solution design created; this way, the design is responsible and there is accountability. The light bulb was first a design and then an innovation that broke through darkness; the design captured the innovation in its structure.

Similarly, the telephone solved a communication problem; there was a design structure which then evolved and continues to evolve. Apple’s iMac evolved the desktop of the previous era; solution through design was at the core of it. The emotional side of design, which is also the aesthetics, brings about a connection with the users who are looking for a solution.

If everything in society or our environment was created to bring about a solution, why has every object of use not come under the preview of designers to make an aesthetic contribution to those objects?

One designer who has successfully led the way since the 80s is the iconic Philippe Starck. With his approach, he has literally impacted the designs of daily objects of use. His interest lay in the environment dwelling within four walls. His first high profile break was when he interned and went on to become an Art Director for Pierre Cardin’s furniture sector.

His foray into industrial design started with an entity – Starck Products – while he worked for Adidas. Starck Products then moved on to work with product manufacturers like Alessi, Kartell, Vitra, and Disform.

I was moved by his simplicity last week in his address at the Design Talks Colombo organised by India Design Forum, of which I was one of the panellists. Starck started by saying: “A million years ago, I was an amoeba.” This not only said a lot about his approach but also his stand on the sovereignty of our existence devoid of our egos and pride. From high-profile residential spaces to budget hotels, staplers and door knobs to bathroom fittings and wind turbines (the list goes on), there won’t be a space in a house where he has not made a difference. He has proved that design sits comfortably at the top of the ladder and at the bottom.

This piece will not be complete without mentioning some of his icons like the ghost chair which has sold over a million pieces, juice squeezer, structures like Nani nani in Tokyo, Alhondiga in Bilbao, and many more.
In what category of design would you fit this gentleman in? Wouldn’t you agree the compartments of design would not be able to hold him in one, but the depth of his design thinking and his approach create a compartment of their own?

By Ajai Vir Singh

Founder and President, Colombo Fashion Week and winner of the Global Effie, Ajai Vir Singh is a visionary who has fathered the fashion movement in Sri Lanka.