'The Apprentice' for Designers

Who is this man? Why, it's controversial product designer, Philippe Starck, of course.

He is, so the speak, the Alan Sugar of the product design world. Although he's a little bit more French than our Alan is. Famous for his bold and controversial designs, Starck has forged a name for himself over the last 30 years, designing the interior of the French president's house, countless bizarre chairs and a certain notable lemon squeezer along the way.

And now, sixty year old Philippe Starck, claimed by some to be the most famous product designer in the world, is at the center of his own reality TV show on BBC2. I've been saying for years that someone ought to make a program like The Apprentice, but featuring designers rather than business development magnates, senior retail managers, accounts consultants and the like. And at last, it seems that somebody else has had the same idea, and has turned the TV program it into a reality. The series started on Monday at 11:20pm on BBC2, and will run for six weeks.

The show sees twelve contestants, supposedly all talented designers, battle each other through a series of design tasks to earn... a six figure salary? No - a six month work placement with Starck.

I don't know how well the program will go down with the general public, but surely for us design students, and indeed everyone in the design world, this should be essential viewing. After watching the first episode on BBC iPlayer, I can't decide if I love it or hate it. Philippe Starck's sheer French-ness is very over the top and 'in your face', and he certainly fits all the stereotypes and pre-conceived notions that one might have concerning French designers. He takes the twelve British contestants to his School of Creativity in Paris, and their first assignment is to go to a French supermarket, and equipped with €100, pick out one product which is an example of good design, and another which is an example of bad design.

It makes for very interesting viewing. The contestants have one hour to pick their products, and then it's back to the studio for a critique from Starck and his two trusted sidekicks. Just like Alan Sugar has his Nick and Margaret, Starck is aided by Jasmine, his head of communications (although she also happens to be his wife), and Eugeni, who Starck describes as "the most talented designer in the world". Here they are look, like a giant three headed ├╝ber-French design beast:

The main problem I have with the program is that Philippe Starck keeps stressing the importance of function before form, and expressing his vision for a more ecologically designed future where there are fewer pointless products, and instead, only useful products. It's a lovely vision, but it seems a wee bit hypocritical coming from the man who designed products such as these:

Philippe Starck's limited edition 'Teddy Bear Band', which retailed at £142

If you're wondering what that is, it's actually a stool. It could be yours for £3,052.

These chairs offer "a soft and comfortable polyurethane seat, without foregoing the glamour of transparency and colour!" They cost £476 each.

The 'Holly All Vase' stands at 7 feet tall, and costs £2,700

The Starck 'Gun Lamp' would be a beautiful addition to any home, for just £1,400

Despite my cynicism, I still think it's a brilliant idea for a reality TV show, and I'll definitely be watching the rest of the series to see how it pans out. I'd love to know what other's opinions are on the program...


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