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Interior design gets all dirty on us

Annie Deakin gets accosted by sex-obsessed Philippe Starck and debates the tasteful art of the erotic

“Sex should be very important. I hope it’s something you do one or two times a day,” Philippe Starck told me a few months ago over a cup of tea in a North London studio. I was dumbfounded. It was my second week working for mydeco and my boss Brent Hoberman (formerly of lastminute.com fame) was in on the conversation, as was Starck’s glamorous wife Jasmine. I blushed, Brent chuckled, Jasmine nodded and Starck continued his rant.

“Sex is like eating. When you eat, you go to the kitchen and a lot of products specialise in that. But for sex, there is strictly nothing. It’s like our whole life is without sex. There is nothing about sex in what you see in your home – except for the sex stories that you hide under your bed.” The flamboyant French designer is referring to his well documented desire to create furniture that can be used for both conventional and erotic purposes. His range, entitled the Privé collection, featuring handcuff-friendly leather sofas and a bed with a mirrored headboard for Cassina (S and M for beginners, gulp) is sexually ergonomic, whatever that means.

As modern and enlightened as we all are, the subject of intimate relations remains taboo among my peers. Well, there are certain friends who happily pole-dance in the sober light of day and cavort their sexual preferences on Facebook (you know who you are). But predominantly, we’re utterly British in our bedroom discretion. It makes sense, therefore, that when leading designers turn their thoughts to boudoir habits, they remain diplomatic in their designs.

When lingerie boutique Myla invited established designers Tom Dixon and Marc Newson to create sex toys, it was a scandal. “If you’re wearing Jimmy Choo shoes and carrying a Prada bag or using an orange press designed by Philippe Starck, why on earth would you want a conventional sex toy?” questioned Charlotte Semler, co-founder of Myla. It was a jaw-dropping moment; erotic toys were being put into a new perspective. After scoping out the competition, Dixon justified his decision, “I was struck by how cluttered and trite most of those objects were. They were appalling in every way, in their engineering, their packaging, their marketing and even their literature. Here, I told myself, is visibly an opportunity.”

Both Dixon and Newson’s designs for Myla are beautiful miniature resin sculptures; certainly not the kind of thing (I believe) you’d find in the blacked-out shops of Soho. Catering for an increasingly design-savvy public, the designs do not shout out their intended purpose, more they look like they belong anywhere in the home. Shameful and easy to mistake for something else, they send the message that sex is an unmentionable topic. Like much modern art, it’s hard to decipher the intended subtle theme of Newson and Dixon’s designs without explanation.

I couldn’t resist quizzing Marc when I met him this summer for a video interview for mydeco. “Yes, I designed a sex toy,” he smirked sweeping back his droopy fringe. But why? His portfolio extends from cars, watches, mobile telephones, boats, the interior of jets, telescopes, binoculars to trainers. “It’s an interesting thing to be asked to do. I must confess that I am not quite sure whether it worked. The feedback I had from my female office was that it would be better for a paperweight.” Hysterical. Quite the antithesis of Starck’s gusto for all things frisky, Marc seemed considerably embarrassed by the association. And I felt perverted for prying.

More blatant are those like Lulu Guinness, Kylie Minogue and Julien Macdonald who put their name to bedlinen. This month, sultry actress Eva Mendes launched her own bedding range. “I’m a big interior design fan and architecture buff, that’s one of my passions. If I wasn’t an actress, I’d be an interior designer. I’m not smart enough to be an architect. We’re starting off with bedding to see how the public responds to it.” The doyen retailer of middle England Stuart Rose bid for a sequinned bedspread by Macdonald at a charity auction – the image of him curling up under sparkly covers has to make you chuckle.

“I am in this strange position to make the best I can of a useless job,” explains Starck of his profession. “I have used design to speak about sex, life and mutation. I am proud to have transformed this useless job into... something a little less useless.” At the end of the interview, the flirty Frenchman tickled Jasmine and pinched her bum. The Starck truth is that there’s only one thing on his mind... and that’s not design.

Anne Deakin is acting editor of mydeco