It may feel like only yesterday that Eurostar began zipping us to the Continent, but its interior design is already as passé as the Chattanooga choo-choo. A £35m revamp has been announced, with Philippe Starck, enfant terrible of the design world, as the "artistic director".
His appointment should come as no surprise, considering the great man's versatility. His idiosyncratic style has been applied to hotels, bars, televisions, candlesticks, cutlery, coffee pots, lavatory bowls, watches, toothpicks, pasta shapes and cheese-graters.
As Philippe modestly remarks, "Nous sommes Dieu." He has also come up with a fly-swat bearing a human face at the business end, a lavatory brush called Excalibur, a teddy bear with rabbit-heads where its paws should be and, most famously, a three-legged lemon-squeezer in the shape of a retro space rocket.
The last is universally acclaimed as a design classic, despite the slight drawback that it is all but impossible to collect the resulting lemon juice. In Starck (Taschen, 1996), a glossy monograph devoted to his work and philosophy, the designer reveals that we all have the wrong idea about his lemon-squeezer. On page 273 of the book, he is shown wearing the device on his head.
Despite his prolific ingenuity, train design is new for Philippe. Thus far, his sole ventures into transportation have been a motorbike for Aprilia and a kayak. A formidably powerful vehicle that goes underwater is a natural successor to those two products. But Monsieur Starck has given only a few indications of the direction that his revamp will take.
Travellers to the Continent will be pleased to learn that the unfashionable red prevailing in first class and the outmoded yellow dominating economy carriages will be replaced by "discreet and elegant" colours. The uncompromisingly avant-garde nature of Philippe's intentions is underlined by his remark that the project aims to transform the trains "into the modern equivalent of the Orient Express".
To get some idea of what that means, we need to look at some of his other endeavours in interior design. For example, the furniture in the lobby and bedrooms of the Starck-designed Royalton Hotel in New York is almost entirely swathed in white, like a great country house shut up for the war.
At Restaurant Felix in Hong Kong, he came up with dining-chairs each bearing an unnerving photograph of a staring face (one of them has the visage and distinctive bog-brush hair of P Starck). His design for Restaurant Theatron in Mexico City is dominated by a two-storey-high unfocused image of a madly grinning face. Something along the same lines will doubtless come as a great comfort to any Eurostar passengers prone to claustrophobia.
Philippe's redesign does not stop at fixtures and fittings. He is also replacing the démodé blue-and-white purser's uniforms created by Pierre Balmain, a name as vieux chapeau in the fashion world as Norman Hartnell.
Monsieur Starck's only previous venture into the world of haute couture was "StarckNaked", a skin-tight dress of adjustable length that came with built-in tights. It could be adapted for suitably supple Eurostar personnel, leaving only the problem of where the purser can stow her purse.
Having achieved a renaissance with the Eurostar interior, it is surely only a matter of time before le maître is invited to turn his attention to the train's exterior. At present, the swooping front of the loco cab is so Eighties. A Starck redesign might well be on organic lines, such as his best-known architectural endeavour, a Tokyo beer hall whose roof is topped by a huge, gleaming organic form, nicknamed by locals "the golden turd". Could Philippe's neo-Orient Express take a similar form? Such an object emerging from the Eurotunnel en route for Paris would be a stirring sight.Reuse content