Superyacht Design Symposium 2018: 7 things we learned from Philippe Starck's keynote speech

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Working alone is his ideal

World renowned designer Philippe Starck joined Boat International editor Stewart Campbell at the 2018 Superyacht Design Symposium for the keynote interview. Here's what we learned...

Much has been written about Starck's reclusive nature and his monk-like lifestyle. He expanded on this, saying, "Me and my wife live as far away from everything as possible, always looking at the sea. I live with the minimum possible, like a super-luxurious monk. I work alone and I speak to nobody. I have no distractions - no telephone, no computer and no mistress. I work 14-18 hours a day and my only contact with the outside world is my wife. I am the king of concentration. When you concentrate you can create anything in the world."

As a result, anyone hoping to see Starck team up with other top yacht designers will be disappointed. "It’s a big trend to be co-working, but me - I am not trendy," he continued. "The best thing is to be alone with your white page, or you computer if you want. And then if you make something good, you can be proud of you. If you make something bad you can be ashamed of you. That’s why I always work alone."

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He initially turned down the Motor Yacht A project

Over the years, Starck has worked on five notable superyacht projects and he touched on each of these in turn. The first was the 24 metre sailing yacht Virtuelle, launched in 1999, but it was the groundbreaking Motor Yacht A that saw him truly shake up the yachting world.

Reliving his introduction to owner Andrey Melnichencko, Starck said, "A young guy called and said, 'Can you design a boat for me? I am 26 years old, I am Russian and I want a superyacht.' I said, 'No, it is impossible', but everyone I spoke to afterward told me I should do it. Eventually I agreed and asked him he wanted. He said, “Make what you want.” I came up with the design and he just said, 'It's perfect, I love it.'”

Photo: Christoffer Rudquist

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Venus was the product of two control freaks

Starck's star continued to rise in 2012 with the launch of Venus, designed for the late Apple founder Steve Jobs and built in the Netherlands by Feadship. However, this project had been a long time in the making, as Starck explained, "Meeting with Steve, I remember the silence. He lived in a small house with very few doors. We spent the Sunday with him, three days after he launched the first iPhone and he didn’t take a single call. He hated everything that was creative - it was not so easy.

"During seven years with Steve we refined the diameter of the table corners and how many millimetres wide the slots were. This boat is astonishing. Sadly nobody will see inside, but there are a lot of patented designs on board. It was designed by the two biggest control freaks in the world: Steve and me. Steve was the emperor of control freaks."

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Sailing Yacht A was inspired by pirate ships

Starck's latest design, and arguably his most divisive yacht to date, is the 142.81 metre Sailing Yacht A. He was surprised to learn that it is by far the most popular yacht on boatinternational.com in terms of hours spent reading this website. "I was sure that everybody hated Sailing Yacht A, everybody said it was so horrible. Some people can hate it, I can understand; some people can love it, I can understand also - but it exists and I can wait because everybody hated Motor Yacht A at first as well.”

The yacht's interiors were briefly discussed, including the underwater observation room, meditation room, drive-in tender garage, before Starck touched on the inspiration for the project, "My friend said to me, 'I want a galleon, like a Caribbean pirate. I want to live non-stop on my boat, and Motor Yacht A is too small.”

Photo: Carl Groll

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Bionic technology is coming

Starck's rejection of technology in his personal life hasn't stopped him from designing mobile phones for the likes of Thomson and Xiaomi. What's more, he is an advocate of bionic technology, which could eventually see humans installing a user interface inside their heads.

"My obsession is friendly access to technology," he explained. "An interface is only good if it gives the easiest access to outside services. Right now we are preparing for the fusion of bionism, when we will take the service inside of us and have neural connections. The past two years are the first time human intelligence has gone down overall. If we want to continue the curve of human evolution we have to move towards bionism. We are at the gate of the next step of humanity."

Photo: Starck with the Xiaomi smartphone Mi Mix

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He is his own worst critic

Despite many notable design successes to his name, Starck is relentlessly self-critical and describes himself as a "sadomasochist". "I have a good habit - when something is finished, I cry. Not because I’m emotional but because I see how I was lazy, how I was a coward, how I was venal. I cry to be somebody so bad. For me it is never good to finish a project. My best project is always the next one."

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His advice to young designers

At the end of the session, Starck finished by giving his advice to the next generation of yacht designers, who were recognised last night (January 28) during the Young Designer of the Year Awards: "If you are a young designer, the one thing to say is: be yourself, trust yourself. Just be stupid, stubborn and continue."

Photo: Christoffer Rudquist

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