Tuesday February 16, 2016

Wachtel On The Arts - Karim Rashid

Karim Rashid

Karim Rashid (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

As a boy aboard a ship to Canada, Karim Rashid won a children's art contest—with a picture of luggage.  Today the Egyptian-born, New York-based Rashid is one of the best known figures in the world of industrial design, creating products that are unusual, stylish and functional.  His distinctive playful approach has won him many awards, but he argues above all for design that's democratic and relevant to our lives today. Eleanor Wachtel talks to Karim Rashid about his passion for design and its place in our lives today: from snow shovels to teacups, couches to martini glasses.

Karim Rashid & Eleanor Wachtel - Wachtel on the Arts

Karim Rashid likes to stand out -- in every way.  At six foot four, dressed head to toe in his signature white and pink, with white lacquered nails and distinctive, personalized tattoos along his arms, he's a striking figure.  And his ideas are as big and radical as his appearance: He wants nothing less than to change the world—through design.

Rashid has been profiled in Time magazine, The New Yorker and Psychology Today.  He's been dubbed the "poet of plastic" for his use of inexpensive, contemporary materials in the design of everyday products that are both functional and beautiful, with sensual curves and dazzling colours.  The best-known example is the elegant waste basket, called the Garbo, that became a hit in the mid-1990s for the Canadian housewares firm, Umbra. It's sold more than eight million.  

"He built a better trash can, and the world beat a path to his door." - The New Yorker

And then there's the sleek, stackable "Oh" chair, also for Umbra; a high-performance plastic snow shovel, for Black & Decker; the Bobble water bottle; train seats for Via Rail, watches and tableware for Alessi, manhole covers for the sewers of New York.  For Rashid, designing something as simple as a soap dispenser is, as he sees it, "a chance to put a piece of sculpture on every sink in North America."  His work is featured in major museum collections—from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Pompidou Centre in Paris--and he's won numerous awards.

Karim Rashid was born in 1960 in Cairo.  His father was Egyptian, his mother British, but the family soon left for Europe, London and later Canada.  His father, an abstract painter and sculptor, a set designer by trade, was an important influence.

Growing up in Toronto, Karim was soon experimenting with his own style, even designing and sewing his own clothes. Gifted in mathematics and drawing, he planned to go into architecture, but then he discovered that industrial design was, as he puts it, the perfect place for him – "a symbiosis of engineering, art, architecture, humor and psychology." He studied at Carleton University in Ottawa, followed by an internship in Italy. Early on, he worked in Canada, and then, after a stint teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design, he moved to New York City, where he's been based for more than twenty years.  But Rashid considers himself a global citizen, designing not just products but restaurant, retail and hotel interiors, and even buildings, around the world.

Karim Rashid's many books include Sketch, KarimSpace, Design Your Self, and I Want to Change the World.

Related websites:

Karim Rashid

Karim Rashid on Instragram