Uber-designer Philippe Starck’s latest chandelier for Baccarat Crystal looks not unlike one of those medieval catapult machines used for hurling rocks over castle walls onto a surprised enemy. And its imposing but slender shape seems similarly set to startle those who thought they were already familiar with the work of this internationally-acclaimed French designer.

The Marie-Coquine, part standing lamp and part chandelier, was presented at the Palazzo Morando during last week's famous Milan furniture fair, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The Starck contraption is the centrepiece in Baccarat’s “Highlights Collections,” which also includes the work of seven other designers (Arik Levy, Eriko Horiki, Michele De Lucchi, Jaime Hayon, Moatti & Rivière, Studio Baccarat and Yann Kersalé).

Starck’s new design for the show has been jealously guarded up until now. Suffice it to say, the suspense has now revealed a work that is proving to be one of his most original.

It is a composite work that seems to channel, in its creator’s own words, “the spirit of readymade and dada.” It juxtaposes a boxer’s punching bag with the Zenith, an iconic Baccarat chandelier from the golden age of this ancient French crystal house, originally founded in 1764. Upon the chandelier, Starck has place an umbrella. The whole thing is attached to a photographer’s mobile tripod, making it a deliberately portable object, as well as a balancing one, thanks to the fixture’s rigid steel pole, which works like the beam in a pair of scales. Originally designed more than a decade ago, it has taken Starck two years to perfect in the run-up to the show.

“The name Marie-Coquine is a clear reference to Mary Poppins,” the designer explains. “She is a woman who does this brilliant and magical thing. It is a truly surrealist act. She rises up in the air with her umbrella. I find this to be a rather wonderful form of motion. And light is also motion. When she rises up like that, something happens. It’s a creative surprise.”

A prolific designer who claims he is “not intelligent but profoundly intuitive,” Starck became well known above all for his elegantly curved everyday objects, which he designs with a touch of humor and inventiveness. In his fourth decade of designing, the 62-year-old's body of work is so vast that no one tries any longer to keep track of the countless design lines he has produced over the years. His objects are ubiquitous in the world of popular taste: electrical appliances, utensils, furniture, clothes, luggage, vehicles, etc.

With the Marie-Coquine, the still very much detail-oriented designer seems to propose new and radical departure in his work, one that puts an emphasis on heterogeneity. The chandelier is almost like a cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse), a surrealist’s take on the old-fashioned parlour game Consequences, which involves collectively assembling a disparate grouping of words or images. Here Phillipe Starck seems to be creating his own personal merger of functional imperative and suggestive imagination.

The chandelier also makes you think of the Italian brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, designers whose influence Starck has acknowledged. Working between the 1950s and 1970s, they were geniuses at the art of salvaging and recycling, able to distill things into new forms. The most impressive example of the brothers’ work in Milan is the Floor lamp Toio (1962), an assembled work consisting of a transformer, a brass stem, fishing rod loops and a car headlamp.

"A human zone"

In the same spirit, much later on, Philippe Starck developed the ‘Gun’ collection for Flos, an Italian light fitting manufacturer. He reworked Kalachnikov assault rifles and M-16s with gold plating, and turned Beretta pistols into lamp bases.  Then there was his Louis Ghost armchair, whose polycarbon material revisited the Louis XVI style with an ironic twist.    

With this latest chandelier, the designer’s creative gamble is of a whole different nature. “Some people do not have enough space, while others have too much,” Starck explains. “When you are talking about Baccarat, you’re talking about objects that are expensive to construct, so this is not about people who lack space. I am trying to protect people who have a surplus of space from feeling lost in it – in that kind of immensity - by creating a poetic space, a virtual space that has elements of surprise but also human warmth.”

His dream is to create “a space within a space, a portable human zone in one’s own home,” but done in a luxuriant way. “This is Baccarat, not Ikea,” Starck insists. Indeed, the Marie-Coquine is set to retail at 29,000 euros.

For the Milan furniture fair, Starck chose to use “retail objects, but reworked. If I had designed a lamp base in forged metal on the scale of luxury Baccarat required, it would have become something completely pompous and ridiculous: something a coke dealer in Miami would buy.”

The artist is instead choosing a modest “less is more” approach these days. The Marie-Coquine is a case in point. “It is about staging the unbelievable and the luxurious – but done in a deft, economical way.”

Read the original article in French.

Photo - pmo