Philippe Starck - Credits: courtesy of Cassina
The Fenc-e Nature collection of seating and coffee tables by Philippe Starck belongs to the first outdoor line by Cassina, presented in early 2020: The Cassina Perspective goes Outdoor. - Credits: courtesy of Cassina

Philippe Starck: “nature is brilliant just as it is”

Just when we thought we knew everything about Philippe Starck – his pioneering use of plastic for furniture, his love of the sea – the French designer has surprised us once again, this time with his interest in ecology. It dates back half a century, he says, and accompanied his work before it was de rigueur. Now, his environmentalism has taken on fresh meaning.

Monsieur Starck, let’s talk about nature and outdoor life. What does sustainability mean to you? 
When I was 16, I met an American ecologist in Formentera. He explained, and I understood it before others, that this was the avant-garde. I dug into books about political ecology, and ever since, it has been obvious to me. Nowadays, there is the need to conceive of sustainable commerce, and use it to invest and earn money. Yet I believe the real issue is not how to achieve positive growth, but more about how to create a better society in terms of reduced consumption and waste. Yes, we are creators, we are visionaries, but how can we carry on doing that? 

You seem to feel at ease outside your comfort zone. 
I’m an explorer. I’ve spent my entire life exiting my comfort zone. I have designed most everything: from everyday products, to hotels, yachts, and for the past year landscapes as well. But the challenge posed by outdoor furniture put me in a bit of a quandary, because the sector has developed a distinct style that makes everything look the same. Whereas if we want to harmonise with nature, we really must work with different elements.

Is this the idea behind your Fenc-e Nature collection? 
When Cassina asked me to think about an outdoor collection, I vowed to respect nature and be humble, polite and discreet. Nothing ostentatious, no fanciful designs. There is no need to flaunt human achievement; nature is brilliant just as it is. For this design, my parameter was to look for what is necessary. An aluminium frame provides solidity, offers the possibility of changing position, and can contain the pleasure of natural materials against the human body. When I was young in Formentera, my house had neither electricity nor furniture. I would go to the beach and gather seaweed to fill the pillows and pick up driftwood to make a sofa. I looked at what was available from nature: rope-like vegetation to be woven, shrubs to cut and carve. These initiatives were similar to Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, but totally relaxed. I cherish the idea that in many years’ time if anything needs to be repaired, it will be enough to look around and collect natural materials. I believe my efforts have been eco-friendly. The Fenc-e Nature collection makes only one claim: to possess the natural elegance of nature. 

You have often said you’d like to make the world a better place, and that music is part of your life and creativity, on a par with outdoor life. Could you recommend something for us to listen to? 
Music is a very personal affair. I have a scientific approach; I listen to different things according to the degree of concentration I want to reach, or just for pleasure. After all these years, I can say the best music for creating is Brian Eno’s, because it’s elegant, discreet and rich. After 40 years of listening, I have never gotten tired of it.


Article published on the March issue of ICON DESIGN.