PARIS -- Philippe Starck was waiting for his plane to take off, bored, doodling on an air-sickness bag, drawing a daddy longlegs spider ... no, not a spider, it was a lemon squeezer, its shiny, ridged metal head perched on three arced supports, graceful and vaguely menacing. The designer says his brain produced it, his hands executed it, as if he had little to do with the affair. It is now in stores around the globe, at around $75.

More recently he was hanging out on the beach on Long Island with his friend Ian Schrager, owner of the Starck-designed Royalton Hotel in New York City, when suddenly a toothbrush occurred to him ... or to his brain. It's long and slightly undulating -- lately he's been doing a lot of long and undulating -- with a tiny comma at the end that serves as a pick, and a plastic stand that holds just the head of the brush. It will cost about a dollar.

Known as a "phenomenon" in his native France, the peripatetic Starck has become one of the most sought-after designers in the world. The man who claims that he just "copies his brain" has redesigned a knife factory in Laguiole, France, and the knives that were manufactured in it. He has designed Japanese office buildings, Spanish restaurants, Italian chairs, a teapot, a mineral-water bottle, an opera house, a pasta strainer and pasta, boats, tables, a computer, silverware, cars and a new Barbie doll. One of his latest creations, Schrager's 600-room Paramount Hotel in New York, opens next month. He now hints that he is trying to design his own strain of oysters in a bed near Bordeaux.

His exuberant offhandedness kind of says, "By the way, wouldn't this be a great idea for a housebuildingspacestationtoothpick." But there is ambition too. One hint of Starck's desire for omnipresence is in the name of one of his companies, Ubik. Like ubiquitous. His ideas touch every level of human society -- but Starck takes design a step further, into the consumer's imagination.

"I don't want someone who buys this to say, 'Oh, it's a lemon squeezer,' " he says of his award-winning design. "I want them to say, 'Hey, I like spiders.' People are spectators, they are blind consumers of the material. I want them to have relations with things, I want to open their heads." His pudgy face puckers, as if serious. "The two creative elements are orgasm and extreme surprise. It's the only way to get people out of their daily way of thinking. What I like to give people is emotion."

An orgasmic toothbrush? Starck says, "Why not?"

In fact, he says he is far happier with the toothbrush than he is with the wildly successful Royalton Hotel, where he designed everything: the interior setup, the furniture, the bathroom sinks, the door handles, the lamps.

"Usually I'm not satisfied with what I do," he says in his all-white office near the Bastille Plaza. "But the toothbrush, that I like. I find that most toothbrushes are not adapted to what we want. They are hard to hold, and afterward you don't know where to put them. This pleases me."

There is no intended humor in the juxtaposition -- enormous and tiny mean the same thing to Starck. Through his eyes every conceivable object in the world can be designed -- or redesigned -- and it his apparent ambition to do exactly that: render the world in the vision of Starck.

"I was raised with the idea that we must invent," says the designer, dressed like a schlep in blue jeans, a white undershirt and rubber-soled cloth shoes. He cultivates an almost clownish appearance, with an elastic smile and expansive cheeks covered by a Yasser Arafat beard. When he's feeling rakish he plops a white cloth cap on his frizzy mop of brown hair. "It is the American dream -- of progress, that science is the solution to society's problems. It's naive, really, it's not really true, but I was raised on it.

"In our family we thought the only honest profession was that of creation. My father always believed that in order to eat lunch you needed an idea."

For someone who is into creativity, Starck's home base looks like it could use a concept or two. The three-room office is utilitarian white and crowded to the point of discomfort. You would think everyone had just moved in or was about to move out. In a tiny rectangular room a secretary and Brigitte Starck, 38, his wife and companion of 20 years, organize his life, working among encroaching computers and copy machines.

A conference table in Starck's office -- a round board flung unsteadily on a pedestal -- is strewed with onion-skin sketches of S-shaped armchairs, the latest products of his ruminations. He scrawls an unlikely-looking chair, marks a couple of proportions, and the scale is almost always right. Androgynous female and handsome male designers are crammed into a front room, executing Starck's quick drawings into buildings and furniture. There is no room to stand, and in any event the atmosphere is tense with the watchful presence of the boss -- no one wants to speak to journalists.

Starck insists this office is temporary, which is what he has said for at least the past six months. He does not believe in offices, group work, nor indeed in the creative concepts of brainstorming or even suggestion. "I work alone," he says. "I have a paper and a pencil and that's it.

"What we have here," he goes on, indicating his surroundings, "we're not going to have any more. I'm moving to my boat near Bordeaux, and all my work will be done by visiophone, computer, by fax. Today you don't need an office. I deeply believe that the office is going to disappear."

Starck's solo modus vivendi suits him well, since he moves rapid-fire between 100 projects at a time, around the world about once a month. He maintains workshops of designers in France, Milan, Tokyo and New York. Starck champions mobility, and total control. As an artist he insists on solitude, but as a social commentator he revels in dialogue.

"There is no idea of style behind what I do," he says. "There's more a political idea behind it all. The logic is all the same: It's about liberty. This is both subversive and modern -- we mix everything. The result is that there is a dialogue. When I do something bad we get letters of insult. At the Starck Club in Dallas people say, 'Thank you,' they don't say, 'It's nice.' "

He continually refers to himself in the plural. "We have very privileged relations," he says. "For 15 years now people have been dancing in our clubs, eating in our restaurants, sitting on our chairs, reading the junk that I say in newspapers. And they say, 'This guy, whether I like him or not, he doesn't lie, and he cares about us.' That means that today when we do something it always has resonance. There is always that element of communication with others. That makes the product almost secondary to what we do."

But it is certainly the product that speaks to the public. Part of Starck's brilliance is his spot-on ability to capture the ever-changing spirit of modernity and express it in simple, useful terms. He evokes this feeling in designs that are ironic and yet amazingly simple -- like the lemon squeezer -- and in others that are simply outrageous -- like an enormous, elongated purple velour armchair he put in a restaurant's telephone booth, couched in pink padded walls.

In France this mix has dovetailed with President Francois Mitterrand's Socialist government and its neo-populist ideas -- Starck's sense of mischief has fallen fortuitously in line with that of Jack Lang, the offbeat French minister of culture. Starck has created a special furniture collection for the president, and a set of furniture for Lang's office.

The artist is the Paris-born son of a successful airplane designer who made small leisure planes labeled "Starck." The junior Starck was drawing from as young as he can remember, sitting beneath his father's drawing board, scribbling. He rebelled against a strict Catholic school environment, counting his first design at age 6: a torture chamber for his teachers. He now calls himself a "strict atheist." At age 10 he was designing what he calls one- and two-room "minimal living spaces."

The minimalism remains part of his trademark, although Starck's style has evolved toward the fantastic. Mostly his work is intuitive, since he had little formal training. "But I'm rarely wrong," he says. He studied at the Ecole Camondo for design in Paris, but dropped out.

The project that became a showcase for Starck and helped launch him to star status was Cafe Costes, a popular Paris cafe at the Beauborg-Les Halles shopping complex that Starck redid in 1984. Its warm brown monochrome tables, three-legged chairs and interior details are a study in 1930s elegance and industrial chic -- unheard of for a traditional cafe.

"At first I was scared to do this," says owner Jean Louis Costes. "But he was the only one who really understood what I wanted. I very quickly understood the project, and I was on the building site every day." The cafe rapidly became a mecca for the French new bourgeois/yuppie crowd.

Then, through his friendship with Culture Minister Lang, Starck was awarded a contract to redo Mitterrand's office at Louis XVI's Elysee Palace. Out went Napoleon's very own desk to the president's adviser in the next room; in went a rounded, modular Starck table. He went on to redo the private chambers of the president's wife, Danielle. There he insisted on creating affordable furniture that could be manufactured and sold to the public instead of designing something extravagant and one-of-a-kind.

"Mrs. Mitterrand called and said, 'I would like to work in my room. Can you make a piece of furniture where I can put my papers?' ... It was a good request, an interesting one that could bring things in the future. At that point I had two choices, either to play the architect of the queen and to make a small object, very small, very expensive, encrusted with mother-of-pearl, and she would have kissed me on both cheeks and said, 'Philippe, it's so beautiful.' The other possibility was to say what is good for the president of the republic is good for a lot of other people. So I looked among my 17 manufacturers who would be right for this and I found Trois Suisses, a big catalogue company like Sears and Roebuck. ... I took the need of the president, my own 'savoir-faire,' and I asked {the Swiss company} to produce it. So the president of the republic got this piece of furniture the same day as 3,000 other people." Price: $160.

"If I design a good product, I find it dishonest that only one person can use it," he says.

From there, Starck's history is written in designs that appear around the world. Some began as a doodle and ended as a building, others give insight into Starck's ironic view of the 18th century or the 1930s. One extraordinary structure completed last December in Tokyo is the Naninani building, an elongated copper container, smooth and rounded with a bit of contour. At one curved end of the building four levels of windows wrap around the edge like pairs of sunglasses. When rain falls on Naninani, the water erodes the copper and fills pre-etched designs on the sidewalk. Starck calls it a "living building."

In January he completed the redesign of the Ritz theater in Madrid, creating a complex called "Theatrix" of two restaurants and two bars, each with its own character. In one of the rooms, the stage is now framed in mahogany to showcase a bar made of onyx. The stone is lit from within, forming an incandescent rectangle.

The other bar is in a narrow room dominated by the Starck sense of humor: a 25-foot-long Louis XVI table, marble atop ornate, gilded wooden legs. At elbow height. Starck wanted to carve the owner's face into the table legs, but said he ran out of time. The bathroom in the bar has the same sort of structure as a sink, surrounded by antiseptic white ceramic tile.

What inspired this? Starck cannot answer. "There are two speeds to creating, real and apparent," he says. "The real speed is the time it takes for a thing to be designed, several years. No building comes out of here if it is has not been gestating for five to 10 years. But the apparent speed is 10 minutes. The chair I'm sitting on was designed on a Paris-to-Tokyo flight in the time it took between saying 'Fasten your seat belt' and takeoff. But the idea was sitting around for five or six years. The idea waits -- it's waiting to see if it's really needed. It has time."

Perhaps inevitably, Starck sees himself as a creator who can affect quotidian life and as an artist who aims to perfect it. When he designs something, usually someone will buy it or manufacture it -- that is a powerful thing. "Everyday, everywhere, there are new needs," he says. "Things are imperfect, they are missing. I have the luck to be able to translate these lacks into three dimensions." Yet he says he never thinks about money. He has a house at Montfort l'Amaury outside Paris, a pied-a-terre in the city's Montparnasse quarter and a boat near Bordeaux, where he spends most of his time -- if he needs another house, he'll buy one.

Starck does not always get everything he wants. He recently lost a bid for a government contract to create a public garden at the Champs de Mars below Paris's Eiffel Tower. And from now on, the designer says, he will not create for new clients -- he only wants to work for his friends. He turned down a request from Madonna to do her house.

"A chair, a building, that is not enough to fill a life," he says. "But the people behind it ... that's something. I'm like a chess player. I go to New York for an afternoon, I play with my client, we have a good time, then I go to Tokyo and do the same thing. The material does not interest me; it's a question of how to translate it. The basis of my work is not for the aesthetic. It is a human relation I'm after with my friends, my clients and those who will see my work."

Starck sees himself as part of an international, mobile culture that shares the same vision of life at work, at play, in the kitchen, in every language. Those are the people he would speak to -- he does not care about the rest.

But this does not mean that he feels he has arrived. On the contrary, now, he says, he has the luxury and the challenge of designing what and when he wants. "Before, I was preparing," he says. "I had to put myself on stage. Now I exist. Now I can really start to work on some sophisticated projects -- like the car. But I'm very unsettled. I don't sleep at all. I'm in permanent combat with myself to be better. I'm not at all content with what I do."

He looks serious, but as always with Starck, it is hard to know when he is joking. He adds: "The idea of having arrived for me is like being dead."