Magazine - How We Met: Philippe Starck & John Hitchcox
‘I like to explore places but all Philippe wants to do is sit in his hotel room and draw’.
John Hitchcox, 50
One of the world’s most influential property developers, Hitchcox (right in picture) pioneered the notion of loft living before becoming the chairman of the residential design and development company Yoo. He lives in west London.
Philippe is the quintessential Frenchman: strong-minded, proud, arrogant and he turns his nose up at Brits – though I’m convinced his [over-emphasised] accent is a fake.
In the mid-1990s I’d been building nicely designed boxes – homes without furniture or design – when he was at the peak of his ascendancy. I realised, here’s this guy who spends all his life dressing things – chairs, motorbikes, lemon squeezers, even bathrooms – while I’m useless when it comes to furniture or layouts. So we met at his office, a house on the Seine, and we had a meeting in his bedroom. Now, I’ve been his partner for 15 years and we’re best friends.
I can’t think of a person more fun to work with. We could be in a meeting and everyone’s talking about engineering and he’ll draw a huge phallus and the female student design assistant will wet herself with laughter. Then he’ll come up with an idea and everyone will say, quaking in their boots, “That’s brilliant.” But it’s my role to say, “Not a chance, no one will buy that, it’s shit!”
What’s brilliant about him is that he’s not clouded by any creative shackles. And he’s prolific – you go to the Milan Furniture Fair, and while Terence Conran might have four new chairs, Philippe will have 64. Then there’s his diversity – at one point I was with him when he was designing a tampon.
I’ve never met anyone who’s retired more often than him, though – he retires every year. I laughed at him the other day when he brought it up again.
He’s more of a hermit now than when he was when designing nightclubs in the early 1990s. Now, though, when we’re travelling together, I want to explore places with him, but all Philippe wants to do is sit in his hotel bedroom and draw.
I have been there for all four of his marriages, and there’s no doubt that he’s now much more settled than he ever has been. Philippe and [his wife] Jasmine have this wonderful thing where they put this tattooed dot on their arm for each year of their marriage and now they have six, straight up the middle of their arms.
Philippe Starck, 63
From the Alessi juicer to the transparent Louis Ghost chair, the interiors of countless boutique hotels to the interior of Eurostar’s trains, Starck has been responsible for some of the most iconic pieces of design over the past 40 years. He lives in New York, Paris and London.
I’m very sentimental. I believe you should only do business with someone if you love that person. And when I met John, in Paris 15 years ago, he was this kind, young-looking man and we were friends immediately. I was working in my office and he’d arrived for a meeting to ask me to design buildings. I said, “I’m sorry but I don’t see why – there are lots of architects and I’m sure they can do it better,” and he looked disappointed.
Several months later he came back and said, “Are you sure? Because I’m sure you can make something new.” I started to think and I said, “Thanks for insisting,” because I love people who believe in an idea. I thought about it and realised there is something to invent – a new concept about buildings which are not about architecture but about the people who need the home.
For me, a sense of humour is the best symptom of human intelligence and John’s is sharp, like a blade, using the right word very fast, like a rocket. We’re always finding new ways to make one another laugh. In particular we have this game when in public, based on the hysterical conflict between the French and the English. We make a lot of jokes about one another’s [nationality]. It’s an old obsolete idea [of stereotypes], which is why we make the jokes.
Nowadays we never meet to work: I work with a team so when we meet, it’s only for fun. We have a ritual lunch when we go on holiday to Formentera every summer, and we have a lot of fun there.
The only conflict we have is when he complains a lot about [me] being boring. When John arrives in a city with me, he immediately rents two bicycles and says, “Philippe, do you want to explore the city with me?” And always I say no. I am a creator, I don’t need to visit anywhere, I just need to visit my brain. And the best place to do that is alone in a room. He is real-life orientated. Me, I am always somewhere else, in a dream; he is the ground, I am the sky, but together we are complementary.
Yoo’s latest project with Philippe Starck and the Lodha Group launches in Mumbai on 12 October.
Article originally published in The Independent, Sunday 09 September 2012.