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January 29, 2011

The Curious Case of Monsieur Starck

Text by Malvika Sah

He is charismatic, intelligent, creative, funny… everything you expect a classy vintage man to be like… Philippe Starck turns on his French charm during an exclusive tête-à-tête with Verve

It isn’t every day that you meet the president. But then its isn’t every day that you meet the man who is not the president but is being treated as nothing short of a premiere by all! The buzz around Philippe Starck’s recent visit to Pune was akin to just that.  Hailed as the king of modern design style, Starck is a thorough born and bred Parisian. Beware of conventional stereotyping though for as in his designs, he defies them in reality too. For starters he lands up at the heavily guarded and much anticipated press conference in his Peter Pan-esque funky green night-pajamas. Everyone looks on quite amused as he swaggers in true royal style waving and smiling at all. His heavily accented English or ‘frenglish’ as he jestfully calls it and brutal puns on partner and old time friend John Hitchcox make up for all the faux-pas minutes later.

He was in India to promote the newly launched Yoopune project, a one of its kind über luxurious residential project in the city. Yoo – the design company sees him partner with old friend and international property entrepreneur John Hitchcox distinctively known as the ‘Miuccia Prada of the property industry’. But for the moment it is Starck who steals the show with his child-like contagious enthusiasm and his one-liners that have the crowd in splits.

Being artistic and designing comes naturally to him. He agrees that his father, an aeronautic engineer, gave young Philippe the nudge to keep dreaming in this life-long quest to craft something exciting yet useful. He calls himself an ‘explorer who likes to play around with different ideas that pop into his head every once-in-a-while”. Along with that happiness in his personal life that springs from the passion he shares with his wife, is the driving force for his work and designs. The journey of human evolution from a simple egg is the awe-inspiring thought that provokes him to think so diversely.

That thought pulls the plug on his eccentrically trendy designs which by now have transformed into timeless icons. These include the plastic Louis Ghost chairs, AK-47 gun lamps, spider-like chrome lemon squeezers, mineral-water bottles, toothbrushes, luggage, a motorcycle, a mega yacht, euro coin along with several hotels, restaurants, pubs and lush homes including the house of erstwhile French President François Mitterrand.

For him his designs and style have a vision that look ahead, are honest in their approach with a certain amount of humour. And he insists that even after more than two decades of continuous work he has retained all these traits in his everyday work.

Starck’s penchant for creating luxe homes and plush furnishings is widely known. This very aspiration has brought him to India for the much hyped Yoopune project to be ready by 2014. As one of the leading design companies of the world, Yoo has about 33 projects across 27 countries that aim to give people a spectrum of styles to choose from which stimulate them without being prescriptive. Founded by Hitchcox and Starck in 2000, Yoo (pronounced You) has a team of designers from different schools of thought and dexterity who come together to create something exclusive while adding their designer Midas touch to each home. However as Hitchcox specifies, apart from humanity, fun and humour being their core principals, their recognition for modern day marketing is the binding theme with each other.

His camaraderie and comfort with Starck is clearly visible as both banter with each other like young lads. While Starck playfully addresses him as ‘the boring corporate’, Hitchcox fondly calls him the ‘autistic child’, who even while travelling across the most exotic locales, habitually locks himself in his hotel room to work at his own pace and peace. But the respect that the duo hold for each other is laudable.

Yoopune, their first project in India, will offer 228 idiosyncratic super swanky apartments publicised as the ‘Yoo inspired by Starck’ exclusive homes. Spread over six towers overlooking the plush dense rainforest and humongous trees, the entire property spans across 17 acres giving buyers the option to choose from two design palettes – classic and nature. Cliquish amenities like the famed Six Senses Spa built underground, swimming pools, basketball and tennis courts, a whiskey and cigar lounge, and recreational areas for children are all part of the super niche parcel. An assortment of the best European designed fixtures and finishes including Italian marble and Poggenpohl kitchens add that touch of glamour and sophistication to the already posh settings.

And what Starck brings to the table is his stroke of whimsical genius. A self proclaimed fan of various civilisations and traditions from across the globe, he likes to mix and match his palette with strokes of different cultures which he considers are ‘genuinely eclectic’. He first visited India as a 20-year-old and has been coming regularly since. “There are so many things common between me and India. We both live and believe in abstraction and humanity. I feel very comfortable designing here. I feel that I am a part of the same tribe,” he waxes most eloquently about his experiences in India. In fact, the desi beats of Bollywood music has had him tuned-in for the last 30 years.

So working on the Indian project wasn’t such a big deal for Monsieur Starck. It went on smoothly thanks to Panchshil Realty, the real estate development company, responsible for getting Yoo to India. “It’s a sound marriage,” says Starck with a grin.

John Hitchcox couldn’t agree more. India had been on his radar, and Yoopune seemed like just the right opportunity at the right time. Synchronising the project to Indian sensibilities is part of the plan. He points out that the project gives the buyer a global perspective and offers ideas to help them decide on how they may want to do up their own pad. “That’s our way of making the house their home,” he says passionately.

And these cozy condos are the perfect playing ground for this cauldron. Packed with everything contemporary and modern they have a typical vintage look that isn’t easy to forget. This culture palette epitomises much of Starck’s work which sees fascinating ideas from the past being placed alongside some of the most contemporary designs creating a mesmerising tension. One sees antique classy furniture and paintings being gracefully placed amidst plastic table lamps and chairs with captivating designs. Elegant wine glasses and cutlery placed below funky ceiling motifs complete the motley picture.

The luxury of space that Pune offers adds to the luxe effect. The spacious decks with wooden blinds surrounding the four or five bedroom apartments measuring approximately 5,000 square feet and the concept of his/her washrooms in the master bedroom may seem outrageous to city dwellers but normal for a lazy chic life here. The apartments are well hidden from the prying eyes of all strangers with the dense green rainwater foliage retaining the ruggedness of nature. Award-winning international landscape architect Bill Bensley has been brought on board to ensure that the exotic and stunning natural environment is preserved amidst the modern expansion. He agrees saying, “I intend to design between the bounty of trees and nature for this project.”

For now, the venture is a long road ahead with another three years before it is completed, though flats are already being booked. Yoo has also announced another project in Gurgaon for which work is to commence shortly which simply means that Monsieur Starck’s tryst with India has only just begun.

Starckly Innovative

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