WRITER: Andreas Toelke / TCS
Cairo-born Karim Rashid is the world’s most prolific contemporary industrial designer. His projects range from interiors, fashion, furniture, lighting, art and music to installations. Bespoke gets a chance to pick Rashid’s brain.
Wouldn’t you say you’re a good example of how designers are now superstars?
This has been the perception since the 1980s. Before then consumers wore designer outfits and brands. Then fashion saturation was reached, flats turned into designer lofts, and pieces of furniture got names. Designers became the new stars.
Is there a competition between product designers and couturiers?
No. Product designers are in general more intellectual than fashion designers. This comes from their education: they have to know about references and about history. For over a decade, I have been teaching in a design college. Every now and then I check in the fashion department about their levels of education. Their inspiration comes from magazines, from the tear sheets they pin on the wall. The source is something that already exists. With product design you have to dive deeper, get into material, function and production possibilities. And as a rule: a chair must remain exciting for decades.
Nowadays, why are products being more and more knocked for their aesthetics?
The things that surround us are very personal. Either we have a relationship with them or they are considered throwaways. Because, in general, we consume too much and we are surrounded by too many things; these have become optional. We assume they are always there, and always will be.
Why do consumers pay enormously high prices for works by design icons?
I have worked with 450 companies so far, and have always charged exactly the same rate. It is what a piece of furniture costs in development, and what has to be invested in the material and manufacturing. There is a standard profit. So a piece does not become incredibly expensive because a designer name is stuck on it, or it is associated with a myth.
You want to make design affordable, and you succeed in that aim, but where is the thrill in that?
Product designers are here because we need things. We are not here because of design. Designers should create a better, nicer world. Our agenda has a theme: affordable goods in mass production for many people. We are already there. I go to Habitat, to Ikea, to Cartel, and I see things that are functional, affordable and nice. If I really want to make the world a little bit better – and I do – then I cannot be satisfied with only having a small elite group as my customers.
So why is some design linked with the elite? Why do people pay 20,000 USD for a sofa?
It’s absurd. The reason is many companies that produce things like that produce radically, using very sophisticated technologies and very rare raw materials. The costs explode when a low number is made. But I can make the same piece with Ikea and offer it for around one third of the cost. With the same materials.
How should we think of Karim Rashid as a consumer?
For the last three years I haven’t been to any shop – nor have my employees. We buy everything over the Internet. You just have to look at the amount of information that’s available to us, close at hand. If I want to buy an iron, I have hundreds of net critics who will describe what works, and what doesn’t. From there it’s just one click and I’ve ordered exactly what I want.
And if you want to try on a pair of trousers?
I personally have quite special taste. In the stores I can rarely find what I’m looking for. On the other hand if I Google ‘pink Adidas trainers’ I’ll find a pair – exactly the right one. I get them delivered to my door, and if they don’t fit I close the cardboard box and send them back. Consumer habits have totally changed, as well as knowledge about products. The Internet can destroy a brand overnight. Or turn it into a must-have.
It sounds like consumers have matured.
We shop more for what we like, rather than because of an image that has stuck in our minds.
You’re doing exceptionally well, why do you think that is?
What I’ve learnt is that my work is very sensual, maybe even sexual. I try to shape my products to be as human as possible. The needs that we have - for food, drink, sleep, and sex - are all the same, this certainly appeals to people. To divide them up in terms of design is nonsense.
You’ve said in the past that you’re inspired by organic forms, how do you bring that to life?
There is an eroticism in touching, whether it be material, skin, the wind in our faces, the touch of a hand – everything can be, and is, erotic. It does not only occur when the curtains are closed.
Why are you so recognisably an enemy of straight forms?
There isn’t one single straight line in nature. We are organic and biomorphous, and have created a world from cardboard. Our streets - especially in the United States - are grids. The buildings are boxes. And what is the best thing what one can put in a box? More boxes. A box as a TV; a sofa like a box. This is alienated and brutal for our psyche and for our physical constitution. I think that good design has organic forms for all the senses. This has led to my use of form.
That form is extremely recognisable. Seemingly, you must have no fear of plagiarism.
This is probably too radical, but I don’t believe in copyright. I don’t believe in restrictions. Everyone should be allowed to do everything. The only border I impose is one of general legislation, but one without cultural restrictions; one that does not make religion a state issue. If someone injures somebody else, they should be punished. But whoever wants to drink or smoke them self to death – that’s their decision. Provided they understand what they are doing.
You are on record as saying, “I want to change the world”. Isn’t that a little bit immodest?
Maybe. That’s probably why I have so many critics – maybe because I am so productive.
To be so productive I presume you must be very fit.
I work on about 75 projects at the same time, travel non-stop. My personal record is 21 cities in 61 days. For me, body, soul and mind are one big whole. Training is a lifestyle - there has been a fitness studio on every corner since the 1980s. Food is also a lifestyle. The biggest muscle of all – the brain - I train all the time: every day I read the Herald Tribune and the New York Times. I calculate everything mentally, and love challenging documentation. But relaxation is also very important to me.