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Design Classics

Juicy Salif, 1990

Designer: Philippe Starck
Manufacturer: Alessi

Born in France in 1949, Philippe Starck’s career went into overdrive when French president François Mitterrand commissioned him to design his private apartments at the Elysée Palace. In the ground breaking Café Coste, Starck took the frozen-in-time typical French zinc bar and wicker chairs a good shaking up. Hotels (including the Royalton in New York), motorcycles, yachts, furniture, lighting and home products – including tooth and toilet brushes – followed, all backed by a desire to make design objects available to the masses. Roaring up to public appearances on a motorcycle and sporting a scruffy beard cemented his street cred as the bad-boy designer-as-rock star. And then there were his alliances with brilliant entrepreneurs, such as the Coste brothers, Ian Schrager, Alberto Alessi, and such companies as Kartell and Target, which demonstrated his branding savvy. There is even a Starck design for a new condominium in Toronto.

The Juicy Salif is, as the first half of its name implies (the other half comes from a science-fiction character), a simple kitchen object. It was commissioned by Alberto Alessi, who reports receiving a drawing on a napkin with “sketches of a squid that took on the unmistakable shape of what was to become the Juicy Salif.” Apparently, Starck has his design epiphany while squeezing lemon over some calamari. Made of cast aluminium, its bulbous ribbed cone sits on three insect-like legs – a tiny alien landed on the kitchen counter.

Why indeed? Opinion is sharply divided. Kitchen tool or indulgent yet witty object of desire? For me, as the former, it is a dud. There’s nothing to strain out the pips, you have to find a container to collect the juice and then put something underneath to catch the after-drips. But let’s be honest, this design made something that none of us really needed into a consumer product we actually craved. For a while in the 1990s, Juicy Salif was the “it” product, making an appearance almost daily in nearly every photo shoot of every chic loft in every issue of every glossy design magazine. To be fair, Starck wasn’t concerned with functionality, though he claims it works: “Sometimes you must choose why you design – in this case, not to squeeze lemons.” He goes on to spin a yarn about a newlywed couple inviting the parents over for dinner for the first time. While the guys “go watch football on TV ... the mother-in-law and the young bride are in the kitchen and there is an awkward silence ... this squeezer is designed to kick-start the conversation.” The Juicy Salif proves that functionality, alas, is not necessarily the criteria for a well-marketed design icon.

National Post, June 22, 2006.