“If it’s style, it is a thing of the past.”– Karim Rashid
Let’s start with your training. Is there a figure who was like a mentor to you?
Early in my career, Ettore Sottsass taught me that there are many beautiful design objects, but you have to ask what they do for us? In the sense of human, inspiring objects, Memphis was a revelation. Many imposing design objects need to stand by themselves to impress. I always ask myself, what is left, if you take the design away? If it’s style, it is a thing of the past.
Also, Sottsass taught me not to be too much of an artist to be a great designer. I keep his vases, and a few Memphis works around to remind me of this. An artist is not a designer, and a designer is not an artist. What counts in the end is to help the world become a better place from aesthetics to human behavior, from the ecology to the economy. Hence design is a creative act, a social act, a political act, and an economic act.
During our conversations, you have mentioned you were also a student of Maestro Gaetano Pesce; what is that you learned and remember from Pesce as a teacher. Is there something of that time and of his teachings that still influence your work? And what is the best memory you have of this experience?
I studied under Gaetano Pesce near Naples in 1983. Gaetano gave us an unusual assignment to design a drinking glass with a head or a person’s face. It was an unusual assignment. He reminded me of my father a lot because my father was quite figurative that way, and a sculpture and an artist, just like Gaetano. I learned from him the notion of Variance. Back in the 60s and 70s, he did many experiments where he would take a plywood box and inject polyurethane foam but not allow the box to fill up with foam fully. Every time he would open up the box, it would be a different chair. It was is non-serialized production. And I took his ideas of non-serialized production to a company called Nambe in Santa Fe back in the 90s. I used a CNC machine and created a software that the CNC machine would cut out of alloy vases. But because of the algorithm, it would cut a different form every time. This process was non-serialization through mass production, but obviously, I was doing it digitally. Whereas when Gaetano was doing the experiments, it was a hands-on way of creating non-serializations. He also did a beautiful table for Cassina where the workers poured the colored resin in the mold, and the colors world mix, so each table came out differently. That peculiarity was the most crucial aspect of his design philosophy.
Minimal and futuristic shapes are often the leitmotif of your creations.
How would you define your style?
I don’t have a style. I focus on new social behaviors, new paradigms, new technologies, new materials, and embracing and mirroring the age we live in. To design using contemporary criteria, in turn, shapes the future. If I style, I only imitate the past.
Completely new shapes, volumes that develop within different volumes, shapes that overlap, you have given your best in fashion too. Among your collaborations with various brands, if you had to choose an experience that touched you particularly, which one would you prefer to tell us about?
I was greatly inspired when working on the HUGO BOSS Boat. Here was an opportunity to speak about speed, exclusivity, energy, power, and courage through the sailboat’s visual aesthetics. I intended to make a graphic statement by embracing new technologies and materials. I worked with Solar panels, techno paints, and techno printing technologies to shape a photogenic, memorable sailboat. Meeting Alex Thompson and touring the boat showed me the great passion needed for these races and projects. Meeting with HUGO Boss and the ATR team members, having a constant back and forth dialogue was essential in shaping the final design. Meeting with Stewart Hosford, showing me the carbon fiber samples helped steer us in the right direction for what we should base our design around. Using carbon as the direct inspiration for the livery as this boat is made of carbon fiber is the first of its kind.
Every round of designs required analysis from a performance perspective. It led to many iterations and revisions but ultimately helped us narrow down the best possible design functionally and aesthetically, marrying the Hugo Boss brand & ATR with my aesthetics. I have worn Hugo clothes and cologne for many years and always appreciated the simplicity but innovation of materials and perfection of quality. I understand the desire for innovative materials and the need to embrace new technologies in all they do. Hugo does not follow the flippant recycling of trends. I see myself with these same attributes- precision, elegance, minimal, yet humanized.
Let’s talk about the future. What is innovation for you? Both in the field of fashion and design.
Innovation only comes when one focuses on contemporary issues and works with recent social changes, needs, and desires. Innovation and design are inseparable, as technology and design are also inseparable. Fashion should talk about how we live and not repeat antiquated derivative styles of the past. We live in a data-driven digital age, and like our digital tools, our physical world should have the same seamlessness, ease, immateriality, functionality, and smartness.
Why the choice of often bold colors? What is their meaning to you?
As a 5-year-old child, I loved neon colors and colors that were alive. Until today I find these colors (as accents) can change our mood, create more positivity, make us feel more alive. Color can alter our behaviors and elevate our mental well-being. Of course, color needs to be used in a very sensitive way, and then it can be a beautiful phenomenon, be it an entire building, an interior space, a product, a piece of furniture, a piece of clothing.
You are a reference point for design enthusiasts, a key figure for the new generations, especially for the transversal way you manage to develop your projects. What message would you like to give to them?
I would tell design enthusiasts and consumers to sincerely question what they’re purchasing, creating, and bringing into their homes. We must remember the obvious HUMAN issues in a product. Are consumers flippantly purchasing useless kitsch at the checkout? Are they assessing a product for criteria like Emotion, ease of use, technological advances, product methods, humor, meaning, and a positive, energetic, and proud spirit?
Can you tell us about your relationship with music?
I listen to a very broad range of music. Music affords me to concentrate, be inspired, dream, imagine, and become completely engrossed in what I am working on. It is an essential part of my process. I mostly listen to electronic or jazz – without lyrics since it takes me into my lyrical state of mind, and I also write my own lyrics while I am drawing.
This pandemic has forced us all to stop and reflect deeply. What do you imagine in the future of design?
Even in this hyper-consumptive world, in the future, we will own nothing – this is nature- we lease cars, we rent houses, and soon we will learn to lease or rent everything, experience it for a short while, and go on to the next. We will create a forever dynamic, ever-vast changing human condition, where everything will be cyclic, sustainable, biodegradable, customizable, personalizable, and seamless. This is Utopia, this is freedom, and this is nirvana. All the goods in the world will only exist if they give us a new or necessary experience. We will dematerialize.
Eclectic characters like you are also great visionaries. Do you dream of something revolutionary?
In the next year, I plan on building my dream house! I’ve designed so many spaces for others, but this will be my own Utopia. For so long, I was inspired by Pierre Cardin’s Bubble House (Palais Bulles) in addition to his fashion and product design. The space is so soft, curved, organic, and conceptual. Like this, my dream home will engage technology, visuals, textures, lots of colors, and meet all the intrinsic needs of living a simpler, less cluttered, but more sensual envelopment.
Finally, the concept of sustainability seems to have entered concretely within the most varied areas of production. Could you give us your idea of “quality of life”?
Recycling is in a cyclic paradigm now in the United States and many other countries. Conserving resources means using less raw materials and energy throughout a product’s entire life — from its development and manufacture to its use, reuse, recycling, and disposal. I am interested in biodegradable materials. I am trying to use bioplastics; the Garbo can is made of corn, and the Snap chair by Feek is made of 100% recycled polystyrene and is 97% air. A while ago, I designed packaging for a fast-food restaurant using starch and potatoes that are injection molded and have the exact appearance of plastic. These innovations are finally becoming part of the consumer zeitgeist.
Karim Rashid is one of the most groundbreaking, vibrant, and prolific designers of his generation. Over 4000 designs in production, over 300 awards, and working in over 40 countries attest to Karim’s legend of design. Each of his designs carries a unique color signature and fluidity that is inspiring and unforgettable.
His award-winning designs include luxury goods for Christofle, Veuve Clicquot, and Alessi, democratic products for Umbra, Bobble, and 3M, furniture for Bonaldo and Vondom, lighting for Artemide and Fontana Arte, high tech products for Asus and Samsung, surface design for Marburg and Abet Laminati, brand identity for Citibank and Sony Ericsson and packaging for Method, Paris Baguette, Kenzo and Hugo Boss.
Karim’s work is featured in 20 permanent collections and he exhibits art in galleries worldwide. Karim is a perennial winner of the Red Dot award, Chicago Athenaeum Good Design award, I. D. Magazine Annual Design Review, IDSA Industrial Design Excellence award.
Illustrated portrait by Maria Angela Lombardi
Photo courtesy of Karim Rashid Studio in NY