Philippe Cousteau, Jr’s home is an apartment in Pentagon City,
where he displays artifacts from his travels. The sofa and side
chair are ligne roset; the dining table and chairs are BoConcept.On a balmy afternoon in March, Philippe Cousteau, Jr., greets visitors to his Pentagon City apartment with an ear to the phone; it’s a BBC producer on the line. Cousteau is about to leave town to shoot the Red Sea segment of “Oceans,” the working title of a Discovery/BBC co-production that will document man’s interaction with all of the Earth’s oceans.
The grandson of Jacques Yves-Cousteau, this present-day explorer and environmentalist carries on the family business with 21st-century flair. At 29, he is the president and CEO of EarthEcho International, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that he and his sister, Alexandra Cousteau, founded to encourage people to help restore and protect oceans and freshwater systems through the power of the media and personal experience. He has lectured on sustainability at Harvard and the United Nations and also runs Azure Worldwide, a strategic “green lifestyle” consulting firm. And then there’s his television career, which keeps Cousteau on the road (and out to sea) for weeks at a time.
On the rare occasion that he’s in town, he enjoys relaxing at home. “I love design,” says the tall, navy blue-eyed Cousteau, who has spent two years finding just the right mix of furnishings for his bachelor pad. Honing in on a “classic contemporary” look, he has selected clean-lined pieces that convey an Asian aesthetic. Red accents embolden the neutral color palette in the main living space. It opens to his home office, where he works from a sleek glass-topped desk. A world map dominates one wall, while black-and-white photographs of his grandfather adorn another. In his bedroom, a Lumeo bed by Ligne Roset evokes a Zen-like vibe.
Throughout his home, Cousteau displays a treasure trove of artifacts from around the globe. Many of these mementoes were collected by the father he never knew. Philippe Cousteau, Sr., traveled the world to direct, film and produce more than 30 films for “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” Tragically, he died in a seaplane crash just seven months before his son was born.
Being home, Cousteau says, “kind of reminds me of where I come from and where I’m going. All the things from my father and the things I’ve collected over the years have a lot of significance. They connect me to those places and remind me of the importance of the work that we’re doing.”
Born in Los Angeles, Cousteau grew up in the U.S. but spent summers in the south of France. He earned a master’s degree in history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
By the time Cousteau was old enough to go on expedition, his grandfather had traded active duty aboard the Calypso for the life of an “elder statesman,” says Cousteau. Though they never explored together, Cousteau remembers “everything from tasting wine with him—he was a wine connoisseur—to talking about the environment. It was a broad dialogue and that really influenced my sister and me in terms of how we have looked at our work.”
It was his father’s friends, explorers and scientists, who took Philippe, Jr., on his first expeditions. “I got my first exposure to travel exploration and filming,” recalls Cousteau. “And I loved it.”
Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau founded EarthEcho International in memory of their father, in order to take his work to the next level. “My grandfather really opened people’s eyes to images that we take for granted today,” says Cousteau. In turn, Philippe, Sr., studied man’s impact on ecosystems. “Now that we understand a lot of that interplay, how do we take action? That’s the third generation,” Philippe, Jr., says. “We’ve expanded our horizon not just from exploration and oceans, which are kind of the hook and which are sexy,” he continues, “but then how do you translate that into a dialogue with people about a new lifestyle ethic? We’d like people to change their behavior overnight, but that’s not going to happen. It’s really important to take baby steps.”
Cousteau does not own a car; he takes Metro. He buys organic, locally grown food whenever possible. His cleaning supplies are toxin-free. His sheets are organic cotton. And he vows that his next home will be a loft in a green building. All of these choices, he says, help make a difference.
Cousteau’s documentary career dovetails nicely with EarthEcho’s mission. In Animal Planet’s “Ocean’s Deadliest,” which Cousteau co-hosted with the late Steve Irwin, he made the claim that the deadliest creature in the oceans is humankind. In “Oceans,” he has witnessed the horrendous practice of shark-finning in Mozambique, investigated the invasive lionfish in the Bahamas and looked a sperm whale in the eye in the Sea of Cortez. June will find him in the Arctic—the last journey in a year of filming the eight-part, hi-def series. “Oceans” will air in the U.S. in late 2008 or early 2009. Until then, Cousteau faithfully shares adventures and insights from the field in his blog at EarthEcho.org.
One posting made last November upon arrival in Africa for the first time in his life reveals this explorer’s intense passion and purpose: “Trepidation, excitement, joy and wonder have all combined into a tight ball of energy in my stomach….This is going to be quite an adventure and as my father once said, ‘Adventure is where you lead a full life.’”
Photographer Lydia Cutter is based in Arlington, Virginia.
Cousteau hangs out with endangered sea lions while filming
“Ocean’s Deadliest” off the Neptune Islands in Australia.
In the bedroom, the Lumeo bed by Ligne Roset creates
a tranquil mood with its built-in back-lighting. To the left
of the bed (clockwise from top) are a vase from Thailand,
Chinese calligraphy brushes and an antique chopstick holder.
A shelf in the living room (from left) displays tea lights from
Thailand, an 18th-century Chinese goddess, an 18th-century
vase from Japan, a drum from Africa and a Tibetan milk pot—most
of which were collected by Philippe Cousteau, Sr. The shield from
Tajikistan was a gift from Philippe’s sister, Alexandra Cousteau.
When he’s not on expedition or working at EarthEcho’s DC
headquarters, Cousteau stays connected at the sleek,
glass-topped desk in his home office. A world map;
masks from Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Africa;
and black-and-white photographs of his grandfather
adorn the walls.
Near the dining table, Cousteau displays a mask and spears that
he collected while on expedition in Papua New Guinea. He also
took the photographs of indigenous tribesmen.