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Design: Starck naked

Stripped bare and natural: with his new `non-products', the designer most associated with Eighties high consumerism has turned on to the eco- chic Nineties. By Nonie Niesewand
Philippe Starck's witty and practical designs for everything from bath tubs to hotel chains have made him a household name. Now his latest venture is destined to make him go down in history as an idealist the way that William Morris did a century earlier. Good Goods is much more than a mail-order catalogue of products designed by Philippe Starck (plus some items selected by him), including his designs for furniture, fashion, beauty and food. Published by the smart French mail-order firm La Redoute, it's a polemic by the most entertaining designer this century on how we should live in the next.

Better known for his jolly plastic stacking chairs, the cute Miss Sissi bedside light, and the pounds 11 toothbrush with a horn-shaped handle, Philippe Starck has taken a rather apocalyptic view of design. Does a respirator mask to filter chemical impurities as well as radioactive dust signal the end of the world of interiors as we know it?

"Don't get me wrong" he pleads. "I always fasten my seatbelt in a car, wear my helmet on a motorcycle. To be equipped for possible technological, chemical, bacteriological mishaps is neither a symptom of paranoia, nor of an excessively pessimistic nature." Even if you don't buy into his T-shirts with slogans like "God is Dangerous" and "Tomorrow will be less", at least buy the catalogue to be entertained.

Starck's fertile imagination, translated into products, always amazes and amuses. Strange that the French don't have a word for design - dessin means drawing - yet this Frenchman is the world's most famous designer. It's his Attitude. Everything comes packaged with it: "Maybe I have been too personal" he admits. This collection of what he calls non-products - "not necessarily beautiful but honest and respectful" for the "non-consumer" - alert, wary, mainstream, modern - presumably like the mixed-race, mixed- gender face on the cover of the catalogue with a third unblinking eye, mid forehead. Very Cosmic, which reminds us that Starck (now 48) was in Paris in the angry Sixties, grew up through the hedonistic Seventies, practically launched conspicuous consumerism in the Eighties, and emerged in the Nineties a little fazed, if not starckers.

Among the hundreds of products in the catalogue, some are raunchy, such as the Starck Naked Starck roll-on dress-skirt-and-tights-all-in-one for Wolford; some vulgar, such as the T-shirts printed with images of real-size, actual-position foetuses; or beautiful, such as the silver casual wear: "to replace outfits in colours that pollute the scenery. Garish colours have never amused me."

Everything comes with a pithy comment or what he calls "short maxims", to explain his holistic approach. He has always hated narcissistic design, he adds.

"It's not good enough any more for designers to come up with something new," says Starck, emphatically. "It has to be better than that. A good idea that is technologically advanced to improve the life of the user must not damage our environment and should be guided by a quest for the minimum."

All along he's studying philosophy, you suspect, as well as the living habits of his admirers. They're a cross-cultural lot, which is why you find his design for chop-forks, products that cross the divide between Eastern and Western food. They grow beans and seeds in a sprouting jar, are faddy about their teeth, don't hide behind designer shades, switch on friendly and familiar lights, hate anything obvious, pedal electric bikes - Starck had difficulty making that one eco-chic till he latched on to electricity powered by the wind and sun.

Baring his soul - and his sole, which happens to be made of Technogel bounce, which Starck markets in Good Goods for healthy feet as zealously as a reflexologist - the message behind the non-products is Simplify, Think Green, Pare Down, and keep it all Colourless. Unless it's his chlorine-free, water-based paints. Everything natural, unbleached, no treatments, no whiteners, hypo-allergenic. Even the champagne that follows the brown rice (Thai or Basmati from India) is home-grown French but comes in limited-edition numbered bottles because it's grown on pesticide-free vineyards. Stitched into the labels on clothing made in Peru is "Stop Cocaine: Go Organic". So you can wear your Starck white T-shirt that simply states "Moral Market" with pride

See the catalogue at www.goodgoods.tm.fr or phone 00 33 803 397 397 to order a copy. Goods will be available internationally from December 1998.