A Frenchman's Whimsy

For a guy who possesses such a refined touch when it comes to designing objects and interiors, Philippe Starck can be downright clumsy with words. Three years ago, just as the snazzy Starck-ified Delano Hotel was set to open, the Frenchman candidly decried Miami's terrible style and lack of sophistication in interviews with Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and even the Miami Herald.

Were his reckless remarks misconstrued? Taken out of context? Or were they just another self-conscious marketing move in the flamboyant career of a man who devised a toilet bowl brush he wryly christened the Excalibur? Whatever provoked Starck's putdowns, fickle and forgiving Miamians didn't hold a grudge. At one point so many curious locals flocked to gape at and meander through the Delano lobby that doormen checked names against a list of guests to keep interlopers at bay.

While awards for diplomacy are doubtful, Starck has received numerous accolades in the design world, where he is revered for his curvy, whimsical, yet functional creations. For as long as Starck merchandise has been available in America (twenty years), it has been a staple at the design store Arango, housed since 1964 in Dadeland Mall. Tomorrow (Friday), in observance of its 40th anniversary in business, the shop will mount a one-man show of Starck's work, the first in a series of exhibitions by prominent and up-and-coming designers.

Although Starck's sometimes playfully ornamental style doesn't quite jibe with the Arango philosophy of clean-lined simplicity, Marianne Russell, the store's vice president and curator of the exhibition, admires his oeuvre. "For us it's fun to show things we normally wouldn't show," Russell notes. "We find Starck extremely amusing. He is constantly shocking the world with his designs. He is a multitalented and versatile person who has applied his talents not only in the furniture industry but in industrial design of all sorts."

Starck won't attend the show, but plenty of his work will be installed in the front of the store. A panoply of slides featuring the Delano, the Mondrian in Los Angeles, and New York's Paramount and Royalton hotels will reflect his interior design projects. A multitude of objects will also be on display: a limited edition series of pricey Daum crystal vases; a variety of eyeglasses produced for the Alain Mikli label; the popular Excalibur toilet bowl brush in all its glorious pastel variations; and designs made for Italian manufacturers Alessi and Kartell, including the affordable beechwood and plastic "Miss Trip" chair, a sensation when it was introduced two years ago at fashionable furniture shop Pesch Wonen in Cologne, Germany. The retailers invited Starck to autograph their inventory of 170 chairs, which sold out in a matter of hours as people clamored for their very own signed seat.

Lately, perhaps because he'll soon be 50 years old, Starck has been showing signs of mellowing. These days he's a vegetarian who eschews wearing leather and prefers plastic instead of wood for the central material in his designs. Whatever outrageous quips he has delivered in the past, his fans are aware that what he creates, not what he says, has the power to endure. "He is a controversial personality and probably always will be," explains Russell, who doesn't feel it is her place to remark on the designer's previous comments. "But maybe with this show people will have a chance to evaluate him and his work -- and separate it from his statements."

-- Nina Korman

An exhibition of designs by Philippe Starck runs through June 14 at Arango in Dadeland Mall, 7519 Kendall Dr. Call 661-4229.

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman