UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid: Making colours dance

On UNSCRIPTED, industrial designer Karim Rashid looks back to his long struggle with self-acceptance, and shares how flirting with colour, music, and fashion keep him inspired.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Sep 17, 2021

"My biggest inspiration (which is probably a quirk) is that I see the bad in everything and that makes me creative."

- Karim Rashid

Cairo-born, one of the three kids of an Egyptian artist father and an English teacher mother, Karim Rashid (b.1960) grew up without holding onto the notion of a singular place which he could call home. Leaving Egypt when he was one-year-old to travel to Algeria, which further led to Rome, Paris, London, Montreal, and Toronto, where he attended high school, growing up years for Rashid meant “there was no childhood home”. The consequence: entering into the 61st year of his life tomorrow (September 18, 2021), the New York-based industrial designer, who has been living in the American city for the past 27 years, doesn’t consider it his home.

On UNSCRIPTED this week, we celebrate Rashid's birthday with a special conversation with him that could be summarised as a kaleidoscopic tour of the past 60 years of his life.

  • A photo of Karim Rashid from his childhood | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    A photo of Karim Rashid from his childhood Image: Karim Rashid
  • Karim Rashid with his father Mahmoud Rashid  | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Karim Rashid with his father Mahmoud Rashid Image: Karim Rashid
  • Karim Rashid (in pink) with his mother Joyce England and elder brother Hani Rashid | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Karim Rashid (in pink) with his mother Joyce England and elder brother Hani Rashid Image: Karim Rashid
  • Karim Rashid (left) with brother Hani Rashid | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Karim Rashid (left) with brother Hani Rashid Image: Karim Rashid

"I am completely opposite of some designers and artists where they have so much stuff around them, and they feel that it makes them creative. I am the opposite. What makes me creative is a void–nothing, just pure white space,” says Rashid as he contemplates the triggers that drive him to do his best. He continues, “A lot of times it happens – I have struggled with it myself – that you have to accept who you are and when you do, you will probably have some success, just like I had to accept that I am a little bit eccentric. I like colour, I like form. I am obsessed with aesthetics. Everything around me has to be perfect. I go to a hotel, I end up telling the staff to remove all furniture out of the room; I tell them that I need things a certain way. [...]It was living a very unsatisfied life to always worry about everything being proportional and perfect, but I finally let that go in the sense that I accepted the way I am. It was a long struggle."

Karim Rashid says that it took him a long time to accept his own eccentricities | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
Karim Rashid says that it took him a long time to accept his own eccentricities Image: Karim Rashid

Recollecting instances when he first began expressing himself using colour, an element which from very early on in life became an inseparable part of his being, he says, “When I was 12, I painted my room yellow and orange. I had a beautiful Braun alarm clock radio in orange and a stereo in all high class white. For my prom in high school, I got a custom-made pink satin suit produced, got my hair and nails pink, and I wore platform shoes in purple suede. I thought I was a glam rocker or maybe I wanted to be David Bowie.” A lover of pure strong colours who uses them with unflinching boldness and refreshing applications in both his work and personal life, Rashid shares that pink is his favourite hue, and red is the one that he incredibly dislikes.

I wanted to do architecture for products and not necessarily for buildings.
  • With David Bowie poster; photo taken when Rashid was at the Carleton University (Ottawa, 1980)| UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    With David Bowie poster; photo taken when Rashid was at the Carleton University (Ottawa, 1980) Image: Karim Rashid
  • Karim Rashid with David Bowie poster is 1980, Ottawa, when he was in the university at Carleton | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Karim Rashid (second from left) with Lise Anne Couture, Hani Rashid, Pauline Landriault and Scott Cressman (Toronto, 1986) Image: Karim Rashid
  • Carrying the prototype of Canada Post box, Toronto while working for KAN, 1986  | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Carrying the prototype of Canada Post box, Toronto while working for KAN, 1986 Image: Karim Rashid

With a firm belief that an object, no matter how prosaic and ubiquitous, deserves a great design, Rashid has to his portfolio the credit of over 400 designs in production, 400 international awards, and a multidisciplinary practice operating in nearly 35 countries. Some of his most notable projects include the iconic Garbo trash can (its sensual form alluding to the illusion of actress Greta Garbo); Oh! Chair for Umbra; and interiors such as Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia and Nhow Hotel in Berlin. In our 18-minute conversation, Rashid shares how back in the 80s he ended up in the alienated program of industrial design at the Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) despite wanting to study architecture, and how the former turned out to be the right place for him.

  • Oh Chair, Umbra. 1998| UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Oh Chair, Umbra. 1998 Image: Courtesy of Karim Rashid Inc.
  • Garbo, Umbra. 1995| UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Garbo, Umbra. 1995 Image: Courtesy of Karim Rashid Inc.
  • Kaj Watch, Alessi. 2010| UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Kaj Watch, Alessi. 2010 Image: Courtesy of Karim Rashid Inc.
  • Blob Lamps, Foscarini. 2002 | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Blob Lamps, Foscarini. 2002 Image: Courtesy of Karim Rashid Inc.
If I will write a book on my life, I’d call it, 'How my inner demons produced positive work’.

Speaking of his first tryst with the real world, Rashid looks back to some of the earliest products that he designed: six business phones over one summer for Canadian telephony company MITEL when he was 20, television sets for Brionvega, and dashboards for Fiat. All these designs had one thing in common – they were all made in plastic. “I was always interested in polymers because with them we could make democratic products. We could make things that are inexpensive. […] I still believe design is not for the elite, it is for everybody,” says the designer whose products are featured in 20 permanent collections across international galleries including Brooklyn Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and The Centre Pompidou.

  •  Rashid with his tattoos and their meaning, one from each different city in the world | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Rashid with his tattoos and their meaning, one from each different city in the worldImage: Karim Rashid
  • Karim Rashid at his home in Manhattan | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Karim Rashid at his home in Manhattan Image: Chris Mottalini, Courtesy of Karim Rashid Inc.
  • Karim Rashid DJing a party; the designer goes by the moniker DJ Kreemy | UNSCRIPTED with Karim Rashid | UNSCRIPTED | New York | STIRworld
    Karim Rashid DJing a party; the designer goes by the moniker DJ Kreemy Image: Karim Rashid

Few interesting and unknown facts about Karim Rashid...

1. His first job was working in a record store in Toronto when he was 15.

2. In his second job, he deejayed at a disco in Toronto called Misty when he was 16. Passionate about deejaying ever since, he continues to play music for large gatherings and goes by the moniker DJ Kreemy.

3. His philosophy of food is minimalism. He never consumes anything cooked which doesn’t look like the original food.

4.  People often pass him off as someone who came from a rich family. Rashid, however, belonged to a family that lived in a one-room basement apartment in London. His father, Mahmoud Rashid, had trouble making a living as an artist.

Discover more on his life on UNSCRIPTED – tap on the cover video.

All photographs © Karim Rashid, unless stated otherwise. Images may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced or used in part or whole without obtaining permission. The photographs in this video are not licensed for personal, commercial or public use, or use in the public domain in any form.

UNSCRIPTED:
Curated by PramitiMadhavji (Consultant, Content Adviser, STIR), UNSCRIPTED is a STIR-original series of quick-witted video interviews with leading design professionals who give us an undiscovered peek into their lives. A melting pot of quests, revelations and quirks, the series releases a new episode every Sunday as designers reveal unheard and unknown nuggets from their lives, in response to 30 questions.  

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