The Modern Pluralist
It’s an unusual world, the one Karim Rashid occupies. It’s an environment comprising smooth, glossy plastics, bustling with seemingly nonsensical, free-flowing shapes and radiating with bold, vivid colours that defy conventional standards. It’s a surreal landscape that he envisions, but it’s also a contemporary one. It’s a world made to match our technologic existence; yet, it’s one where few boldly tread to such extremes.
“There is no fear in designing,” says the Egyptian-born, Canadian-raised industrial designer. “My discipline is only to absorb everything I can about a particular subject, and then I sketch for hours developing ideas. My mind is full of information, and most importantly, my mind is obsessed with our contemporary life, with the moment, with the world around me, so the ideas are constantly flowing.”
Over the past 20 years, this stream of thought has poured over and into existence, actualizing in over 3,000 designs dispersed in over 40 countries around the globe. From water bottles and baby bottles to watches and high heels, Rashid’s boundless imagination has shaped all facets of our modern milieu. “I love when my ideas are materialized in the form of products that are accessible, high design and usable on a day-to-day basis,” says the 51-year-old.
It’s not just innovative form that makes his creations stand out – they are also alive with extravagant colour. Rashid pushes each shade, hue and tone to its most radical, juxtaposing dramatic pigments in the most electrifying ways. “Colour is life,” he says, explaining how exploring these phenomena are his means of navigating our “emotions, psyche and spiritual being.” Pink – the colour he is most often seen sporting – for example, is what he describes as his super-optimistic white. “It is energetic, fulgent, engaging and a moxie to the masculine world that dominates our built landscape.”
While his progressive imagination charges towards the horizon of creativity, the roots of his eclectic mind can be traced back to his father. An abstract painter and set designer for both film and TV, his dad, Mahmoud, was constantly designing. He would fashion and produce dresses for Rashid’s mother, Joyce, even crafting the furniture in their home. His father’s diverse pursuits provided prospective for young Rashid’s hungry mind. “He taught me that I could design anything and touch all aspects of our physical landscape.” It was this stimulating upbringing that nurtured Rashid’s intrigue with more renowned pluralists, such as Andy Warhol, Le Corbusier and Alexander Rodchenko.
Like the iconic polymaths before him, Rashid eventually transitioned into other realms, specifically, designing spaces. Some of his more recent ultramodern work includes the University of Naples Metro Station, the Nhow Hotel in Berlin and the Agatha Ruiz de la Prada Flagship Store in New York. But it’s Morimoto, a restaurant in Philadelphia that he designed in 2001, which holds a special place in his heart. “That was a turning point for me, because it was so successful that it really gave me the opportunity to design about 100 interiors since then.”
But Rashid’s past wasn’t always as lively as his effervescent present. He spent eight years in Toronto, designing products for the military and commercial enterprises like Black & Decker, before teaching design for 10 years at three universities. One of those positions was at the Rhode Island School of Design in the U.S. The establishment, however, did not accept his methods, and he was let go. “When I was fired I was told I was teaching ‘philosophy and theory’, not design,” he says. In 1996, Nike offered him a generous salary to lead a team in Portland, Oregon, but in a moment of existential realization, Rashid refused. It was either fall in with the crowd or blaze his own path. The rest is history.
While some may criticize his work as too edgy or overly artistic, Rashid’s designs have earned him over 300 accolades, including multiple Interior Design Best of Year awards, several Red Dot distinctions, and a plethora of others, and that’s hard to dispute. He is just designing for a world that reflects our social, political, economical, technological and global culture. It’s a world we’re already living in. Rashid was just there first.