. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yoo Eyes Starck Change to Moscow's Interiors

For MTWith Philippe Starck as its artistic director, British-based Yoo designs and helps to build interiors for companies and private clients.
Flamboyant French architect and designer Philippe Starck breezed into Moscow on Friday to launch a joint venture, Yoo Russia, that will promote his designs in residential and commercial developments in Russia.

Style guru Starck, who is a celebrity inside and outside Russia, is a partner and artistic director at British-based design and development company Yoo Ltd., which operates worldwide with joint ventures in locations such as South Korea, Sydney and Buenos Aires.

Yoo's founder and chairman, developer John Hitchcox, accompanied Starck to deliver a wide-ranging news conference that sometimes seemed more about philosophy than real estate development.

"The business is called Yoo because it's about you, the customer," Hitchcox said.

"We have a very unknown designer who is waiting for his big break in life," he joked while Starck preened himself.

"Our project is about intelligence and humanity," enthused Starck, speaking English with a thick French accent. "I think everybody must build their own home, their own egg, their own life."

Yoo Russia is not yet registered but is a joint venture between Yoo Ltd. and Highland Star Investments, a company representing investment interests of Fleming Family and Partners and other investors and is being advised in Russia by FF&P Russia Ltd.

Developers or clients who have land or buildings are invited to approach the company, which will then produce designs, said Mark Garber, a senior partner for FF&P.

"We can bring finance to a project and financial partners as well," he said.

The venture has no projects in Russia yet, but it has spoken to local developers, including Forum Properties and Stolny Grad, and intends to work first in Moscow, then throughout Russia, Hitchcox said.

Yoo Russia is mainly interested in residential or commercial projects such as offices, he added.

The 54-year-old Starck said people, especially women, know what they want to wear, but when it comes to their home they do not know what to put into it or how to arrange it.

While Yoo and its business partners would ensure that the location and quality of construction is high quality, Starck, or other designers used by Yoo, would assure that the interior, including lighting, matches the people who live in the home.

For MT

John Hitchcox, left, and Philippe Starck said they hold no fear of Moscow's planning authorities.

Starck knows many of the best designs in the world and can offer them and advise on them so that people achieve a result that reflects their individuality. His own furniture is only part of the selection and Yoo's products are not just aimed at the wealthy, he said.

"You must not just impress and spend more money than your neighbor; that is negative and the result will be completely different."

Asked about how they would deal with Moscow's planning authorities, who have a reputation for unpredictability and tortuous approval procedures, Hitchcox said everybody wins from Yoo's designs.

"Moscow is not unique in the world in having its own regulatory authorities, and our objective is to work with people who know how to work together with the local authorities," he said.

"People like what we do. There is a sense of liberation -- to improve the environment and the community.

"We are assuming that will work in Moscow as well."

Asked to name his fee scale, Hitchcox said he did not know the rates in the Russian market, but that Yoo projects around the world varied from $66,500 apartments in Melbourne, Australia, to $7 million abodes in Miami.

Starck's response to questions about fees was philosophical, saying that a can of paint costs the same no matter what color it is. Conceding that his projects to date have been for the middle class upward, he said he no longer has to work and only takes on projects that he likes.

In Russia he would be prepared to work for artists or students, or even on large housing projects for the lower classes, he said.

Asked why his previous attempts to work in Russia, including with developer Mercury, which runs the Tretyakovsky Proyezd set of boutiques and shops in the Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel, were unsuccessful, Starck said the project involved was a commercial shopping center.

"This one was no good for me. It's not my type of life. I don't think shopping is God."

Maksim Kunin, head of real estate at FF&P, was upbeat about the significance of Starck's arrival on the Russian market.

"He [Starck] is the first architect recognized in the West to come to Moscow since Le Corbusier," he said.

Swiss architect Le Corbusier was perhaps the world's most famous architect in the 1920s.

He was fascinated by the chance for experimentation that the Soviet Union offered and won a competition with his design for the Tsentrosoyuz building on Myasnitskaya Ulitsa. He also presented a design for the Palace of the Soviets on the site of the Christ the Savior Cathedral, but this was rejected.

Tina Broecker, a sales manager for the trendy Ian Schrager Hotels, many of which are designed by Starck, said the key to arousing a Russian audience to the hotels' attractions is not Schrager's name, but Starck's.

"If you mention Philippe Starck, 99 percent of people here seem to know him," she said.

"The entry of Philippe Stark and other architectural 'superstars' to this market is another sign that developers understand more explicitly the added value which design can bring to a project," said Darren Gorodkin, head of architectural firm Murray O'Laoire.

"Moscow can and should support a diversity of approaches in the debate about what constitutes good architectural design."