From his see-through Ghost Chairs currently cluttering up every WAG’s dinner table, to his Juicy Salif lemon squeezer, Philippe Starck’s designs have informed and infected the lifestyle magazines and apartment stores of the world’s Wallpaper* cities. But it’s his mass-produced, elegantly simple consumer goods which have elevated the man to mythical status among the world’s ‘New Design’ practitioners.
Desirable and functional, Starck’s cult objects master that rare ability to marry form and function, elegance and usability. And he’s got an awesome accent. His recent BBC Reality show, Design For Life, pitted the UK’s most promising young designers against each other, for the chance to work alongside the maestro for six months at his agency in Paris.
Winner, Ilsa Parry, is a Liverpool-based design graduate who was, prior to the show, lecturing at Liverpool Community College. SevenStreets caught up with her, as she sets out her blueprints for life after Starck.
How did you get your place on the show?
My REthinkthings stand at the 2008 at Design Show Liverpool in the CUC was spotted by Twofour production company, which made the show, and I was asked to apply. I had to tell them my thoughts on what it means to be a designer and couple that with my vision for future practice. Then I had to send in two design drawings, one of something that was an “off the wall idea” (a vertical, screw-in coffin) and another that could be manufactured (my submission for the Liverpool storyteller bench soon to be realised by the Culture Company outside the new Museum of Liverpool at the Pier Head). Starck chose the contestants from this.
Did the series accurately reflect your experiences?
Sort of. The show’s intent was slightly sacrificed to make it more ‘entertaining’. They dragged out our first two weeks into three episodes and then compacted the last seven weeks (the juicy bit of the design process) into just three episodes. In some ways it made light of Starck’s desire to communicate the essence of good design, replacing the interesting parts (struggle for realisation of ambitious objects) with lots of conflict, and physcoanalysis of our inner turmoil, purely for purposes of ‘entertainment’. Hardly the best conditions needed to think constructively!
How hard was the experience – and what’s Starck really like?
The experience was incredibly difficult. It was a real shove into the reality of the rigorous demands of the design process. It was important that we were able not only to express ourselves creatively to impress Starck, but that we were able to fully justify each design decision, on camera, for the sake of the show. Knowing that you were potentially being shown to millions of people around the world meant that we were all acutely aware of the damaging and lasting effects that could have on your career if you were seen to be making too many errors of judgement.
What did your time with Starck teach you?
Keep it simple. Ask questions, find answers. Then ask again. Sleep on it. See the bigger picture, but return to the detail. Work smart, not hard. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes…and take risks.
Tell us about REthinkings. What’s it all about?
REthinkthings is a product realisation company that selects iconic and innovative products for living. We believe in questioning the norm, we challenge what exists and we try to be suggestive, evocative, emotive and appealing with the designs that we realise. We want people to value the objects they use, whether that be for what they mean to them emotionally, what they do for them functionally, or what they say to them. We try to minimise the materials and processes we use so that products can achieve the maximum output with minimal input, and to make them affordable.
We’re currently taking orders on all eight products in the new range (soon to be added to the website) currently this consists of just my work, however once these products have become established we’ll be looking to license other work from designers which is in keeping with our brand.
Is Liverpool a good place to be a designer?
Liverpool is a fantastic city to be creative, it makes you think, it makes you do things, everyone helps each other out, people are spontaneous, exciting, interesting, alive, vibrant, quirky and proactive. It has everything in one place, we are near water, countryside, beaches, world class leisure and shopping facilities and heritage sites. You couldn’t get much more inspirational. Plus it’s so undervalued and very affordable to operate from, and central in the UK.
The whole “I am a designer and therefore must live in London” thing is a farce and anybody who believes that it will bring fortune and the right contacts may feel cheated once they’ve taken the plunge.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been commissioned to work on projects outside of the REthinkthings brand, for clients such as Sony, Unilever, Bo Concept, Lego and Liverpool Biennial. But, interestingly, I’ve been diversifying into music, producing creative tracks with Claudia Brucken from the electronic band Propaganda for licensing to the TV and film industry with a company who are questioning the definition of “music”.
I’ve recently set up my third company, with two other directors: Mike Cloke (the other Starck finalist) and Tom Sutton (a local designer/maker). The brand is called 5ml and it’s a testing platform for designers to achieve sales, with us representing their items and exposing them at national and international trade shows. This makes it far more affordable for up and coming designers to find markets for their work. We’re in the process currently of finding the right people to take to a European event in the autumn and we welcome enquiries.
What do you like/dislike about design in Liverpool?
For me, design is everywhere. I don’t view design content on a superficial level of appearance so I guess that my favourite “designs” include how the space has been used in the Liverpool ONE shopping complex and how it connects the city to the waterfront and creates a central leisure space for people to combine a day at work or shopping with socialising and relaxing outdoors. I also like the thought behind the location for Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ in Crosby, bringing people to our stunning waterfronts and helping them to reflect on their situation.
The University’s engineering building for Liverpool university on Brownlow Hill is particularly thought provoking in the way it changes colour throughout the evening – it reminds me of a big popsicle and takes me back to my childhood!
Most of all, I love how the city has grown recently though investment to include new exciting spaces which offer perspective. The view from the restaurant in the panoramic in the West Tower is a particular favourite of mine.
The only example of bad design I can think of in the city is when council planners and quangos with little design consideration on a deeper level don’t think things through properly to completion – such as the mess that has been left on Edge Lane following the plans that haven’t yet been followed though for the rebuilding of “the Boulevard” and the pockets of social deprivation that exist when housing for families on lower incomes is built in “estates”… Other than that (which often happens thoughout the UK) I can’t really think of any bad design in the city, Liverpool is definitely the pool of life!
What advice would you give for new designers?
Just do it. Stop deliberating. If you have an idea, make it, show it, test it, offer it, respond to the feedback, improve it, don’t wait for the work to come to you, get out and speak to people, recognise your limitations and “design” a way to overcome them. Don’t feel that restrictions stop you from doing anything. If you’re truly creative you will overcome them! Oh and do a business course to speak the language of suits!