Talk about making an entrance. When designer Philippe Starck moved to New York last year, Tina Brown ensured that he would make a splash. Almost before bags were unpacked, the buzz-savvy editor rustled up a spread in the second issue of her magazine. Starck and his fiancee were photographed leaping off a yacht into Long Island Sound.
Starck is not the only top designer to plunge into America's hot design scene. But he stands to become one of the most visible. A deal with Target--which both sides acknowledge to be under discussion--could make him the Next New Designer for millions.
Already in the long-running minimalist-traditionalist wars, Starck is leading the charge. He is known the world over for a whimsical, but streamlined, approach. His sense of the absurd has produced a fanfare of products for the common man: lemon squeezers, toothbrushes, a toilet brush, even a fly swatter.
In high-design circles, he is admired for pushing the price of designer chairs below $100, though in plastic. Cushier but witty collections of sofas, chairs and lamps furnish the trendy boutique hotels he has made famous for Ian Schrager. Style-conscious travelers now can be seen in Starck lobbies (amid giant flowerpots or garden gnome stools) from New York to Los Angeles to Miami to London.
At the newest one, St. Martins Lane, which opened in London last fall, Starck delivered e-design for our time: The highlight of the decor consists of flipping the light switch to choose a color for one's room: blue, yellow, red, orange. The guests' collective mood becomes a Mondrian-like facade on the street.
All this makes Starck as near to a brand as a designer gets--and a natural for any star-conscious outlet like Target. It was the Minneapolis retailer's vice president for home decor, Ron Johnson, who signed up a current favorite, architect Michael Graves. Johnson wouldn't comment for the record on the Starck negotiations, but he has made no secret of his belief that design will provide his company's competitive edge in the coming decade.
For every design trend, look for an equally powerful opposite. Those unenthralled by the mantra of cheap chic will find haute decor alive and well. Just glance at the glossy pages of any shelter magazine--or visit a top-rated restaurant.
That's where Jacques Garcia, over-the-top Parisian designer of the moment--and the polar opposite of Starckian populism--is putting an elegant toe in the American pond.
So far, Garcia is all but unknown on these shores, but his clients have included the Sultan of Brunei. The decorator's lavish hand is at work in New York, at David Bouley's new restaurant, Danube. With doses of cut velvet, black lacquer and gold, it is the picture of prewar Vienna.
The designer all but outdid himself for another public New York venue: the French Designer Showhouse, which benefits the American Hospital of Paris. He imported a roomful of reinterpreted neoclassical extravagance, including fabric-paneled walls edged with yards of braiding.
This month, Garcia's tapestry-and-Old Masters look has been put on the ultimate pedestal, Architectural Digest's new "Top 100" list of designers. ("He's really opulent," confided Paige Rense, the magazine's editor in chief.)
Garcia also has declared his intention to introduce furniture designs in the lucrative American market, at the high end. Examples of his style fill 200 pages of the glossy monograph "Jacques Garcia: Decorating in the French Style," published by Flammarion in France and available through Abbeville Press in this country.
If there is any doubt about his point of view, read the chapter titled "Versailles Forever."
CAPTION: The elegant lines of designer Jacques Garcia, left, contrast with the bold, Mondrian-like facade of Philippe Starck's new London hotel.