Starck, don’t desert us for a call from the wild

So Philippe Starck plans to retire in 1999 when he reaches 50. He’s certainly earned the right, especially as his success has gone hand in hand with personal tragedy – viz the death of his wife.

But it is hard to imagine a man like Starck ever really giving up. Just as our own design entrepreneur Terence Conran has deviated from being a furniture designer/maker to retailing and restaurants without ever losing sight of good design, we can expect Starck to re-emerge beyond the millennium in some highly creative guise. The “biological drive towards designing” he describes (see profile, page 16) is unlikely to leave him.

What is encouraging is that so great a designer is prepared to use his position to set out an ethical stance verging on the political. In the UK, architect Richard Rogers has led the way, with Terence Conran not far behind. Interestingly, though Starck’s agenda is overtly personal and more passionately expressed, all three men have come out as socialists.

We welcome this kind of intervention, not just because it boosts public perception of the industry when a designer makes a public stand for the common good, but because the best design brings with it what Starck elegantly calls “compassion”. The more pragmatic British might talk of improving the quality of people’s lives – as well as bringing wealth to clients. But if truly held the sentiments are similar.

We therefore urge Starck to speak out more about his beliefs – through his words and his work. The influence such a man can have on generations of young designers is immeasurable and the standards of beauty he sets for manufacturers and consumers can only benefit us all. We don’t begrudge him his relaxation, but it would be sad to lose him to pursuits such as pig-farming – the retirement choice of Modern Movement architect Berthold Lubetkin – or the sheep furniture designer Floris van den Broecke fancifully says he’ll rear when he quits as a professor at the Royal College of Art this summer.

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