Donald Trump and Duncan Bannatyne have new competition. Later this month, the designer Philippe Starck is fronting a reality TV show called Design for Life. Picture The Apprentice meets Dragons' Den; Starck's quest is to discover the next generation of British design talent in a BBC2 10-week fly-on-the-wall series.
There is no escaping Starck these days. Regarded by many as the "bad boy" of the design world, he is behind some of the most recognizable product design of our time. From yachts, windmills and toothbrushes to his infamous rocket-shaped lemon squeezer and transparent Louis Ghost chair, Starck knows no limits. To work under him is an opportunity of a lifetime for a budding designer and the winning contestant of Design for Life will do just that. The prize is a six month contract at his studio in Paris.
From personal experience, I know Starck to be charismatic and controversial - attributes for a TV presenter in the making. Passionately opinionated, he is an enthusiastic - ambassador of the design industry. "What excites me about this project is that it’s about the future," the French designer, who is on the mydeco design board, explains. "We are trying to find the talent of young people. We don't want the fashion victim or the design victim; we're seeking the people who do, the people who actually make something."
Whether the show is a shameless act of self-promotion (as some are saying) or not, it is guaranteed to thrill. A notorious attention seeker, Starck has few qualms in embarrassing others. Upon first meeting, he asked me - how many times I had sex a day in front of my new boss. Unsurprisingly for those who know him, the subject of sex crops up regularly in his TV series. In the short preview I watched, Starck jumped up and down, wore a red nose and wailed like a fire alarm. Like fellow reality TV star Gordon Ramsay, Starck relishes an audience.
The TV show was open to "anyone who feels they have a talent for design, regardless of whether or not they have had formal training," according to the BBC.
Hundreds of aspiring designers, seduced by the prospect of a contract with Starck’s studio, applied to take part in the show. Applicants sent sketches of inventive product designs. Starck, his wife and Head of Communications, Jasmine and top designer Eugeni Quitllet whittled the applications down to 12 contestants.
So, what does the future of British design hold? Jessica Viana, 25, sketched a shoe that changes colour according to the owner's mood while freelance packaging designer Robert Meredith, 29, planned a red bungee rope kitchen storage system. Rob Richardson, 32, gave up his career as a sign fitter to go back to university and study design. His resourceful vision of a park bench that stays dry in the rain won his ticket to Starck’s school of design.
Ilsa Parry, 27, thought up a screw-in vertical coffin designed to save space in cemeteries and James Malcolm-Green, 24, visualized a vase styled as a pile of white crockery. One of the older members of the group, Robert Meredith, 29, sketched a portable breakfast kit for busy people. Nebil Avas, 22, made an impact on Starck with his drawings of a chandelier with built-in music system. Starck says, "This show can be a wake-up machine. It will also show that no one needs to be a genius to be creative. Creativity is accessible."
For the duration of the 10-week show, the fledgling designers are set tasks to judge their potential as a product designer. In my sneak preview of the first episode, contestants rummaged around a hypermarket for products displaying good and bad design qualities. Starck sends home the weaker contestants satisfying the (twisted) desire of viewers to see others humiliated.
Reality TV has come a long way since the Nineties. Wife swapping, cursing celebrity chefs and wannabe musicians hit our TV screens on a daily basis. Design for Life shows that reality TV needn't be so small-minded. From the chair we sit on to the pen we write with, product design is all around us but few of us really notice our surroundings. Starck wants to make us more responsive to everyday consumer goods.
With the jobs market tougher than ever, talent competitions by Donald Trump, Duncan Bannatyne and Philippe Starck are soaring in popularity. From young businessmen to tomorrow's designers, everyone wants a lucky break and the backing of a big name. In the design world, Starck's support is a golden ticket to stardom.