Photos Karen Fuchs/GERBER GMC
Text Antonella Boisi
He’s been here for a year or so.
After twenty years in Chelsea, Karim Rashid has moved to Midtown Manhattan. His new Technicolor studio is in Hell’s Kitchen, inside a complex designed by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson, “one hundred steps from my new home”, he says. The king of Pop design, a student of Ettore Sottsass in Italy, born in Egypt and raised in Canada, at home in Toronto, London, New York and the world, has opted for a basically white, luminous enclosure, featuring the transparency of glass, to contain his personal selection from thousands of projects in production, with which to share everyday existence and from which to draw new inspiration. Organic forms of sensual minimalism, enlivened by a chromatic palette of euphoric impact. We asked him a few questions. What’s it like being at this new address? What have you gained and what have you lost by moving? “I never would have thought I would like to be in the center of Manhattan. Midtown on 53rd Street, the same street as the MoMA. I am close to Columbus Circle, the MAD Museum, the theater district, Central Park and Times Square. And I must admit that the forest of skyscrapers that surrounds me, from the Seagram Building by Mies to my favorite, the Hearst Tower, fascinates me. The only thing I miss about Chelsea is the concentration and vicinity of the art galleries. I have gained 500 m2, eight-meter ceilings, large windows and skylights, incredible light entering from all directions, fantastic for finding a sense of serenity that is ideal in the creative phase”. What were the most important architectural choices for the interiors? “The choice of transparency and spatial continuity between zones. The protagonists are glass, on the floors to let light flow into the basement, in the balustrades and dividers, and the box of the conference room; and, by contrast, the glossy self-leveling white epoxy resin used in a uniform way for the finishes of surfaces and floors, with the dynamic counterpoint of a floor-carpet in pink Bolon. For the furnishings, everything – from the desks to the chairs, the lamps to the monitors – has been designed by me. The office has become a big showroom of my work”. You feel a need to surround yourself with your pieces? “I am inspired by Picasso, who wanted to keep his works around him, to understand them better and then to convey this experience to the world. I fill up the space with furnishings and objects because I want to shelter myself from outside influences and, at the same time, engage in some self-critique. I think it is important to live with my projects. I learn something from them every day. Objects speak to us. About lines, colors, materials, textures, technological functions, graphics, sensorial stimuli. They have a semantic value”. Which specific objects keep you company? What are your favorites? “I rearrange both my house and my studio quite frequently, moving objects, furnishings and paintings back and forth, depending on the research I am conducting at the time. I like this change, associated with constant novelty. Among the things I have designed, I am fond of the Doride lamp by Artemide, a piece I had thought of when I was 19 years old, and still a student. It proves that a good idea can live forever, even though it took 35 years to put it into production”. How do you decide if a project is good? “It is good if it straddles the thin line between originality and the benevolence of the market, if it sells well but also receives prizes and honors. I have often said that design is an act of collaboration, not just of personal expression. It is fundamental to fully understand a brand, its culture, its production methods. I start there, with the desire to develop innovation, to motivate both companies and users. I truly believe that the poetic aspect of the physical panorama is fundamental for wellbeing, and that design has the power to change our behavior and our lives. In this sense, as a designer I feel a great responsibility. Each new object should replace three, and this depends on the use of new technologies, new materials and, obviously, better design. I try to create objects that call forth memories. I am always looking for new forms, optimizing performance thanks to production techniques”. In your view, after 60 years of design history that have enriched our everyday world with objects of all kinds, why is it still necessary to create new products? “Design has been the cultural director of our world from the outset. We have designed cities, industries, networks… everything. Our lives have evolved and improved thanks to the experience of beauty, comfort, luxury, performance, and utility, all at the same time. But if a product already on the market is not well designed, if it does not embrace a perfect user experience, stimulating people, it is not doing its function, so it cannot survive”. Why the passion for plastic and fluo colors? “Plastic is a material I have always loved, because it is democratic, light, with high performance, and offers infinite expressive possibilities. We should not forget the fact that it accounts for about 40% of our constructed environment. Where fluo colors are concerned, they have inspired me ever since I first started to use computers, in 1982. They speak of the digital era and convey life, passion, love, energy”. What was the influence of your experience with Ettore Sottsass in Milan? “Sottsass told me ‘you will never be a designer.’ I was disappointed and hurt. But he was saying that to be a designer I would have to make compromises with industry. For him I was an artist, not a designer: so he called me the Great Egyptian artist. Actually, his critique was aimed first of all at himself, because he was too much of an artist to tolerate the industry”. Thirty years later, do you still have the same passion? “The same as when I was five years old. I have always wanted to shape the world, to be a creative and cultural provocateur”. Your relationship with Italy? A new design destination? “I think Italy, since the Renaissance, has been and still is the best country in the world for design; but China is in second place”. Getting back to your new, luminous, colorful and soft workspace, how do you experience it, and what does it represent for you? “I live it as a good project that gives me positive energy in a holistic dimension, the pleasure of going to the office, a mental state in which I feel relaxed, inspired and new every day. A perception I hope is shared by my staff and my clients”. How many people work with you? “In New York there is a staff of 20 persons. The ‘crew’ is very international, with designers from the Netherlands, Colombia, Slovakia, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Iran, Egypt, Brazil, Israel and the United States. I have recently opened an office in China, with another team of 20 collaborators”. Tell us about your new projects. “At present I am working on 80 projects in about 35 countries, ranging from a mobile phone to a new monograph, packaging for moisturizers to bath accessories, a wine bottle, a line of nail polish for men, furniture, lamps. There are many projects in Turkey, Italy, France and Canada. Jewelry in Brazil, a dildo in Germany, toothbrushes in Korea; then a shopping center in St. Petersburg, hotels in Kuala Lumpur, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Hanover, and a dentist’s office in Canada, 4 condo buildings in NYC (about 350 apartments), then luxury condos in Jurmala, Latvia (24 apartments), a restaurant in Tangiers, and residences in Toronto, Miami, Moscow and Morocco”. How would you define your style? “I don’t believe in a style. Style happens when you borrow things from the past. Design, on the other hand, is when you use contemporary parameters to shape the future. I feel like a sensual minimalist. I am technorganic. My work is Digipop.” Does an American style still exist in design? “Once there was such a style. That of Eames, Nelson, Noguchi, and others. It was the middle of the last century, long ago, and it has been so well copied all over the world that most of what we have seen produced since then, in the furniture industry, is derived from that style. Today I think no country has a specific style, because the world is global. Trends, influences, movements are global”.