French Designer Philippe Starck says Apple Will Release 'Revolutionary' Product
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
When uber-designer Philippe Starck on Friday dropped a juicy hint that he was collaborating with Apple on some top-secret but "revolutionary" project to be unveiled later this year, the blogosphere practically tripped over itself with rampant speculation.
Could it be that this genius Frenchman, who has dazzled the design world with everything from pasta to toothbrushes to hotels and even the private apartments of former French President Francois Mitterand, be working on the new iPhone 5 due out this year? Or a newly designed Apple Store?
"It all sounds very bizarre," said Leander Kahney, author of three books about technology culture. "Apple doesn't seem to need help with its stores, since it's already the most successful chain in history. Same with its products; Apple already has one of the best industrial designers in Jony Ive. But then, maybe these two giants of the design world are teaming up?"
For hours, Apple observers read the available tea leaves. Starck had told France Info radio that his "revolutionary" project for Apple would be announced by the end of the year. He said he had been friends with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs for years, had visited Jobs' Palo Alto house on a regular basis, and in fact was planning to visit Jobs' widow, Laurene Jobs, next week.
"For seven years, I went to see him once a month in Palo Alto and I'm going there on Monday because even if he's dead, now I go to see his wife. We used to love talking about interesting things," a French wire service quoted him as saying. "Indeed, we have a big project together that will be out in eight months."
But beyond that, Starck said his lips were sealed because of what he called the Cupertino tech giant's infamous "secrecy cult."
Starck's representatives did not respond to a request for comment. But after an initial silence, an Apple spokeswoman told the news website AllThingsD that Apple was not working with Starck on anything. And then the rumor mill began to focus on a much more plausible explanation for the designer's cryptic comments: Steve Jobs' planned mega-yacht.
According to Walter Isaacson's biography, Jobs had been working with Starck for years on a project that some say could easily be characterized, as Starck put it, as a "revolutionary" project. The luxury yacht, which reportedly will be constructed by Dutch shipbuilder Feadship, could have been the mysterious vessel Starck mentioned in a 2007 interview with Cecile Gauert, now editor of Yachts International Magazine in Fort Lauderdale. He had mentioned a 394-foot vessel he was working on, which turned out to be the so-called "motor yacht A" designed with Martin Francis for Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko. Any other projects? she asked.
"We are preparing now a 246-foot yacht that will be even more revolutionary than the first one, but unfortunately, I can't talk about it," Starck said. "I will reach complete maturity of my know-how with this project, and between it and the 394-foot, I think we will have solved a lot of questions. As people from the industry who have seen the plans have told me, there will be the time before and the time after these two boats."
Sounds downright revolutionary, right? Gauert thinks so.
"When I was trying to figure out who he was working with on this," she told this newspaper, "he described the client as having a beautiful and creative mind, but he never mentioned Jobs by name. Starck has a tendency to speak his mind and exaggerate things and be a bit hyperbolic. But then again, these are truly revolutionary vessels."
Scott Herbst, a well-known Silicon Valley product designer, said Friday he met with Starck last year for drinks at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto.
"He said he was visiting Steve Jobs, so clearly there was something going on," said Herbst. "My instinct at the time was that he was designing a mega-yacht for him, but he wouldn't say. I know he was in Palo Alto every couple months. And another yacht designer working with Starck would also come and meet with Jobs every month or so. So now, if I put two and two together, I'd say this has something to do with Jobs' boat, not some Apple product."