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Interview: legendary designer Philippe Starck on footwear, fashion and his favourite designers

Lauretta Roberts
23 May 2018

Legendary designer Philippe Starck is back with a third collection for Brazilian footwear giant Ipanema. This time he has pushed the design of this most simple, and democratic, of products even further still by cutting back on the materials even further still. He talks to The Industry about his approach to design, why he thinks the pace of fashion is crazy and, as someone who is an oft-cited inspiration for others, who inspires him.

I remember hearing you talk at the launch of your first collaboration with Ipanema and you said that the sandals were the world’s most democratic item of footwear, can you explain what you meant by that? 

I have always been interested in working at the service of our body with the idea of improving what can serve it. This interest has already been translated through past projects related to nature, ecology or organic food for instance. The more I travelled the more I noticed that a lot of people around the world wear flip flops, actually two thirds of the world population wear them by necessity and for practical reasons. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting and helpful to create flip flops and sandals that can also be elegant and pleasant to wear instead of just being a necessity. And even more important than that, it was crucial that the product remains democratic.

This is your third collaboration with Ipanema, what is it about this particular tie-up that keeps you coming back for more?

In order to offer a product of better quality and still be accessible to the maximum amount of people, I worked with Ipanema (Grendene Group) which is specialized in manufacturing plastic shoes. This company is one the most important producer of sandals in the world, with 280 million pairs of flip flops produced every year and worn by 40% of Brazilian women. That’s why it is possible to make flip flops with highly technological level, at an industrial scale and still make them affordable. Together with Ipanema, we solved this paradox, exploring the territories of high elegance and fashion.

Ipanema with Starck

How have you taken the collection forward for this third iteration?

For this third collection, we have developed an even more ergonomic design, with new colours and new models including my favourite one: the Hoops.

You seem to take the approach of using a bare minimum of materials to create your designs, is that driven be aesthetic or sustainable consideration?

Since always, I’ve this strange idea that I would not become a pure spirit. I’ve always hated materiality; you just have to look my body. Since always, I’ve this idea to fight materiality, which is a paradox because I’ve been producing materiality. But I think materiality is vulgarity. Only the project is elegant, only the dream is elegant. That’s why, in all my creations, I try to go to the core of things, to eliminate what is not needed. Then of course, sustainability is a key parameter. We are facing an ecological crisis today and we must choose an intelligent way to produce and to consumer, the best quality with the less material possible and for the right price.

Can we talk about ergonomics, this line has been designed, we understand, to mimic as far as possible walking barefoot. How did you approach that and why was it important?

As you get closer to the body, you can no longer lie. I have cleaned and cleaned and cleaned again the designs, looking for the minimum, the core, the square root of what a sandal is. It is the way to reach elegance and timelessness by creating a product inspired by the body itself and its movements. This is what bionism is about as the natural continuity of our evolution.

You’re always on the move/in an airplane, what are the essential items of footwear and apparel you always take with you?

I usually wear Flyknit Nike sneakers without lace for ease (in airports) and comfort, and above all my Starck with Ballantyne hood cashmere jumper: when I fly, the hood is like a protection and I forget everything that is around and am able to sleep like a baby. I also bring my mini iPad full of thousands of carefully selected music. My Parrot Zik 3 to listen to it. My pencil and tracing paper pad especially produced for me in order to resist all kind of weather and hygrometry. And now my Ipanema With Starck sandals as we have developed two models for men.


Nike Flyknit without laces

As a designer, you have tackled so many diverse themes but you haven’t really tackled a major fashion project. Have you ever been tempted?

I have done several fashion projects before Ipanema: invisible underwear with Wolford, intelligent cashmere with Ballantyne, shoes with Puma, eyewear with Starck Eyes, fragrances with Starck Paris... But whether it is a mega yacht, a chair or a fashion item, it is always the same philosophy: to identify the need for a new creation and your legitimacy to create it, and then to think about what the user will gain. For the Ipanema with Starck, we wanted to offer high elegance for a few dollars or euros. It is a modern miracle.

What are your impressions of the way fashion approaches design and manufacturing from the perspective of an “outsider”? It’s under the spotlight at the moment, for its environmental practices, and I wondered what you thought about that.

I admire fashion designers, some are my friends and I acknowledge their amazing talent. What I do not understand is the crazier and crazier pace for fashion that tells you to change your skirt every three months now. Our world is
 “closed”, we need to protect our earth and invest in longevity and heritage, whether it is in style or quality of material.

Philippe Starck

Azzedine Alaia

You are often cited as an inspiration by designers in all fields, are there fashion/footwear designers that you particularly appreciate?

I am not a fashion addict but as I said previously, I admire the talent of some fashion designers. I loved Azzedine Alaia, he designed both my wife’s wedding dress and my wedding skirt. I love the timelessness of Chanel, the cultured intelligence of Prada and the joyfulness of Dolce & Gabanna. I am also a fan of some companies developing perfect products such as: Flyknit Nike sneaker without laces or Cole Haan with Nike sole and also the fiber Salomon lace walking shoes.

What key themes do you think will dominate design in the near future?

Design doesn’t interest me. What interest me is Us, our species, our evolution as Human beings. Design and fashion are merely tools that can improve our lives but not save it. And in our evolution, bionism is the next essential step. This is the first time scientists say that our body is in levels, this is the first time scientists say that the intelligence is in levels. It shows that the moment of bionism has arrived. Our evolution, you remember, the amoeba, the fish, the frog, the monkey, we have evolved, but here we are in front of a wall. So accept bionism, encourage bionism, become bionic. Do not believe that it means to become Frankenstein, it is to become truly human, which is our goal.


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