DESIGN / Home truths and Starck reality: Philippe Starck, creator of the world's most famous toothbrush, is about to be the subject of a big show at the Design Museum. But what is his work like to live with? Fay Sweet asks around

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The Independent Culture
HE HAS been called a new Picasso, a living Leonardo, a showman, an artist. He has designed the world's most famous toothbrush along with lamps, chairs, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, an apartment for President Mitterrand, a motorcycle, a computer disc-drive, a mineral-water bottle and several squiggly shapes of pasta. There's talk that he will start work soon on an entire Paris street, from pavement to pediment and from dustbins to doorknobs. The street will, of course, be called Rue Starck.

It's not a bad portfolio for a 44-year-old Parisian who bunked off college a year before the end of his design course. But Philippe Starck has never done things by the book. In the past decade - since he was called in to jolly up a suite of rooms at the Elysee Palace - Starck's reputation has soared. Much to the annoyance of his detractors, his shambolic looks, Inspector Clouseau accent and prodigious output have endeared him to a global audience. And those who can't afford a bed at the shimmering Royalton in New York or a table in the theatrical splendour of Madrid's Restaurant Teatriz can still buy a bit of the legend - 30 quid will secure a spidery lemon squeezer and for pounds 8.25 (still ludicrous at half the price) you'll get the celebrated curvy toothbrush, which the man himself describes as his favourite piece of work.

There are signs now that the show is due for a scene change. In the last year or so, following the death from cancer of his wife and business partner Brigitte, Starck has undergone a period of reassessment. He now reviles the excesses of the Eighties and talks of treating the world's resources with more respect and of designing with more soul - 'less to see, more to feel'.

The products of this thinking will be on show in prototype form at the first big Starck restrospective - entitled 'Is Starck a Designer?' - at the Design Museum from Thursday. The spectacle is, of course, designed by Starck.


Designer and chairman, Design Museum

I love the ashtray. It's something I'm very fond of because although I smoke cigars I hate the look and smell of the butts. The flip-top works perfectly to contain the smell and hide all the mess down in its guts. I also own one of the lemon squeezers - they've got great humour. It is a pleasure to watch the juice drip into a glass. The problem is that if you're too vigorous the juice tends to squirt all over your stomach. I also like to see the lemon-half sit on the squeezer's head - like a jaunty hat. The title of the exhibition - 'Is Starck a Designer?' - is very good. I've had long discussions with Starck about his three-legged Cafe Costes chair. It's all very well for the Egyptians to use this sort of design to rest a chair on rough terrain, but on a smooth surface I think they're rather precarious. If Starck isn't a designer I think he's more of an artist - a sculptor.


Design director, Concord Lighting

I've just bought my first Starck lamp - the polished chrome Ara - which he once claimed was designed by his daughter, Ara, when she was six years old. I'm sure he says things like that for effect - he's a great media person. Anyway, it's very bold, handsome and sexy. Everyone who comes into the office touches it. I particularly like the detailing - like the tiny blue nipple on the glass in front of the lamp and the circular mesh-protected slot at the base of the horn, which helps disperse some of the heat. The only flaw in the lamp is that, because you point the horn upwards to turn it off, it's no good as an uplighter. But perhaps I'm asking too much of the thing - it is, after all, designed as a task light and not as an uplighter. In the same way that one can grow to like flaws in a good friend, I can forgive Starck this one. I also have two dozen Dr Glob chairs, which are used on exhibition stands. They look brilliant and are ideal for me because they are uncomfortable enough to discourage people from hanging around for too long.


Executive head housekeeper, Chelsea Hotel, Sloane Street

The Starck chairs are an integral part of the hotel's design - it's modern. We have about 150 Cafe Costes chairs around the place, in the reception, bar and restaurant. They are a mixture of the dark ebonised wood finish and the lighter mahogany. They've been here for four years and have hardly a scratch. They're easy to keep clean - just an occasional wipe with a damp cloth. Because of the location and because it is probably the only modern-style hotel in England, it is often used for fashion shoots . . . the chairs are always included.


Chef-owner of the Argyll, Po-Na-Na Souk and the Notting Hill Pie Shop

I guess it's a sort of compliment, but we've had three of our six purple plastic Miss Sissy lamps stolen from the bar. In fact there are only two left now because the fourth melted. The lamp shade didn't clip on firmly and, because it wasn't quite straight, it got too close to the hot bulb. I've also got one of the lemon squeezers at home. It looks very practical but, in practice, isn't. It really needs four legs to be stable - we use it for squeezing limes to make Margueritas. However, it is a stunning object. I'm not really interested in collecting designer objects, but made an exception in these two cases. Starck has an aura that somehow makes you want to become involved in what he's done.


Graphic designer, Tomato

Starck does the best curves around - that's why I bought six of his Dr Glob chairs. I was entirely seduced by their shape and they were affordable, about pounds 70 each five years ago. It has to be said that they're not the most comfortable of chairs and it took some time to get used to sitting on them, but once you've crashed through the pain barrier they're fine. Apart from having the joints re-soldered on two of them, they've worn extremely well after years of misuse. I've also got the lemon squeezer and toothbrush and always stay at the Royalton when I'm in New York. Did you know that the staff there are specially cast? They're always better-looking than the guests. I adore the Asahi building in Tokyo with its great yellow flame on the roof - it gives the sky an entirely new shape. He is an odd and intriguing man. I like the way he's scruffy, overweight and has got acne, and has somehow managed to devise a language to woo the whole planet.


3D design student, Middlesex University

For as long as I can remember Starck has been a guru to design students. He's the original grunge, and looks like he's still at college living on a grant. Best of all, he's successful and didn't even finish his course. Loads of students try to copy him - always unsuccessfully. One was so obsessed he's gone to live in Paris in the hope that somehow some of the magic will rub off on to him. I bought the toothbrush because I wanted to own a bit of Starck and this was all I could afford. I don't actually use it very often, but it looks good in the bathroom . . . or anywhere for that matter. One thing I'd really like to own is the Lola Mundo chair but I think it's probably very expensive.

'Is Starck a Designer?' is at the Design Museum, Butlers Wharf, London SE1 (071-403 6933), from Thursday to 3 October (10.30am- 5.30pm weekdays, 10.30am-6.30pm weekends). 'Starck', an illustrated study by Olivier Boissiere, has been reissued by Taschen ( pounds 9.95).

(Photographs omitted)