Philippe Starck on the future of superyacht design, Elon Musk, and ‘saving the sea’

Yacht in sea
‘Motor Yacht A’, designed by Philippe Starck, 2008.
(Image credit: Guillaume Plisson)

Few designers have done more to re-shape the identity of the modern superyacht than the Frenchman Philippe Starck. Over the course of two decades, naval architecture and design has formed a considerable – if largely unseen – chunk of Starck’s consultancy work. His best-known boat was the late Steve Jobs’ impressive Venus, a sleek 79m superyacht built by Dutch yard Feadship.

Starck has also turned his hand to two monumental commissions, the 119m Motor Yacht A and 143m Sailing Yacht A, both owned by the self-made entrepreneur and industrialist Andrey Melnichenko. At this end of the market, clients rarely invite the world’s media into their grand saloons, so much of what we know about these boats comes from spy shots, yachting enthusiasts, rampant speculation and the occasional glittering spread in the specialist press.

A keen yachtsman and boat-builder himself, the designer likes to explore new techniques and technologies on a small scale before ramping up to meet the demands of his clients. Wallpaper* spoke to Starck about the business of building boats, what drew him to the industry in the first place and what keeps his ideas afloat.

Portrait of Phillippe Starck

(Image credit: James Bort)

Portrait of Philippe Starck. Photography: James Bort

W*: How did your first naval project come about?
Philippe Starck: One day, a gentleman called me to ask if I could design a 120m yacht. My answer was yes. He said: ‘perfect’. When I asked him about the programme, he said: ‘Make what you want’. One month later, it was designed. He loved it. We did it. The owners are happy.

W: What are the key differences between designing yachts and designing buildings?
PS: Except for monuments, buildings have functions, they are useful, we hope at least. A yacht is not made to be useful, it is the ‘crystallisation’ of a childhood dream. The territory is not the same; it is a sentimental imagination built with the highest rigorist technology. It is a paradox.

W*: What yachting innovations are you most proud of at Starck design?
PS: My first job was to replace the vulgarity of the power of money by the elegance of intelligence and happiness. Afterwards, there was an interesting work about harmony with the sea, then I worked on the elegance of the religious minimum of invisibility and other high-tech inventions.

W*: What is next in the future of yachts? Can you speak about any upcoming projects?
PS: The future is electric and hydrogen for all sizes of boats, from 3m to 300m. I am ready to help Elon Musk to make the same revolution he made for cars but applied to boats. After saving the earth, now it’s time to save the sea.

W: Does yacht design ever bring innovations that you can translate into products or buildings?
PS: Absolutely and that’s also the reason why I design boats. A mega yacht is a free advanced technology laboratory which explores thousands of challenges. When they are won, they can be applied to everything.

‘Tenders’, designed by Philippe Starck

Tenders for‘ Motor Yacht A’, designed by Philippe Starck, 2008. 

(Image credit: Guillaume Plisson)

Motor Yacht

‘Motor Yacht A’, designed by Philippe Starck, 2008.

(Image credit: Guillaume Plisson)

Yacht in sea

‘Venus’ Feadship, designed by Philippe Starck, for Steve Jobs, 2012

(Image credit: Press)

‘Sailing yacht A’, designed by Philippe Starck, for Andrey Melnichenko, 2015

‘Sailing yacht A’, designed by Philippe Starck, for Andrey Melnichenko, 2015.

(Image credit: Guillaume Plisson)

For more information, visit the Philippe Starck website

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.