COOL was born in hope of becoming a bridge to let the art lovers all over the world inspire each other, link together as one, and create a new future in arts. The main contents consist of interviews of both New York-based and international artists and creators, special feature articles, art reports from around the world, reviews and column series. We contribute to the cultural exchange through arts and to the development of the art industry so that people in the world can enjoy arts casually and New York and major cities in the world can connect through the media COOL.
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Karim Rashid, who demonstrates multiple talents in arts, music, and fashion, is a prize in the field of design. He designed at many brand labels such as Issey Miyake and Guccini. Some of his striking but cute work is featured at a number of famous museums, including MOMA. His first time in New York, he opened the Thai cuisine/ Sushi-bar restaurant, “Nooch,” last year. He designed the restaurant entirely, including the plates and the furniture. In addition to “Nooch,” he opened the designers’ goods store, “The Karim Rashid Shop.” Karim also has an art exhibition titled “I Want to Change the World”, which premiered in the beginning of this year. He has been passionately working; indeed, he entertains us with his upcoming work one after another. He is always in the center of attention. This time, I interviewed this man who does not seem to know exhaustion.

COOL: Could you give us a brief profile of yourself?

Karim Rashid: That's a big story. I opened my own design office 11 years ago here in NY.
Before that, I worked in Canada for 8 to 9 years and I received my Masters in Italy in 20 years ago and my undergraduate degree in Canada from 1978 to 1982. I was born in Cairo, I have an English mother, an Egyptian father, and I was raised in London and Toronto.

C: What made you become a designer? And when did you decide to be a designer?

K: I never thought about it. It's just like I was born that way. Seriously!
In my earliest years I can remember drawing objects, faces, apartments and accessories. I always thought I would be a designer. I only had questions when I was about 16 or 17 while deciding what university to go to. I did know what I should study, architecture, fashion design, interior design fine art -- Because then I didn't know about the profession of Industrial Design. I didn't know that it existed.
Because it wasn’t even considered a profession at the time, most people never heard of Industrial Design and very few schools taught it. I applied to study architecture at many schools and got rejection letters because I applied to late and my work was more in the area of Industrial Design. I read about what Industrial Design is and it was exactly what I wanted to do anyway.

C: Do you have your own philosophy regarding design?

K: Sure. Of course I think all good designers have to have a philosophy, an
ideology. I think my philosophy goes beyond the design.
Because when we think about design we always think of contemporary, beautiful objects, things that maybe also not part of everyday life, not part of a lot of people's lives. I don't think of design this way. Also, I don't think of design as just being relegated to the physical world. So my philosophy is probably more about life in general, more about living and how to live a more fulfilling and richer life. I don't mean rich by money, but through a more rewarding life.

C: How do you describe your style?

K: Well, “style” is a tricky word because style means that something is finished, closed -- it's complete. For example, if you think about Expressionism in paintings,
we call it “style” because Expressionism is over. When a movement is active you really don't use the word “style.” So the question is more about what my sensibility, my direction and my philosophy is. I would describe it as trying to do very human things, but in a very sensual, and kind of provocative, and technological way, by marrying all of these principles and expressing humanity and real sensuality with technologies and new materials and production efforts, trying to bring all of these things together. But at the end, to do things that are just very pleasurable, bringing people a kind of heightened sense of being.

Even though my degree is in Industrial Design and the majority of my work is in Industrial Design there is a side of me that is very much an artist. I think I'm sometimes torn between Industrial Design and art because I was brought up by an artist. My father was a painter. I’ve got the gene in me, my genetic make up being that of an artist, probably more artist than anything else. Being too poetic or too emotional, too sensitive -- this is not what Industrial Design is about. Industrial Design is more much about commodity, production, and engineering, so It's really difficult to walk the line between Industrial Design and art.
I think my freedom afforded me to do what I do about 5 or 6 years ago, I had to be at an art show in NY and I went to one after another, and all the sudden I realized that I can wear many hats. I realized that I could now show my work in the art world. I created a lot of products for mass production, but I soon realized that I could make more creative and artistic furniture. I realized how much I enjoy Industrial Design because I am not limited to creating products in one type of category or one market.
In fact, when I told you about all of the areas of design that I want to study, one of the areas that I wanted to mention is fashion design. Now I'm working on a lot of fashion accessories and things too. And there is also another area of design that I am currently working in -- I'm creating architecture. I'm doing two buildings, and a lot of interiors. I'm lucky because I am exploring a very broad range. At the same time, it’s what I wanted. I want to be broad. And I think if you want to be broad you can be. I believe what you put out into the world comes back to you. I get a lot of work from people now because they want my sensibility. Now people are interested in me making music. I also display my paintings in galleries that are interested in showing them.

It's unfortunate. As a child I was one of those kids that had to do everything.
It’s even worse when you are like me, a perfectionist that always had to be the best at what he did. I finished high school in two years -- I got the second highest mark in the class, and I still feel the same way (to be the best) a lot of the time. I want to be the best at everything that I do, so if I do art I want to be the best. If I do design I want to be the best designer.

C: Where do you get inspiration for those unique shapes?

K: I think inspiration is based on your entire life. A lot of times when I'm drawing
I think about things and ideas, and memories come into my mind from being a child, from being in college, and even from things that happened yesterday. I think inspiration is very cumulative. It's a result of all of your human experiences. Let's say I have a project in which I have to design a mobile phone. I don't look at other mobile phones, but what I try to do is to think about the human condition first and of what is practical. You can get inspired by how we engage and interact with things. I am also inspired by the use of my tools (digital tools and engineering programs) and things I can do on screen.
The third thing that I am inspired by are all of the materials that come into my office that we completely look forward to, which are new forms of plastics, new finishes and new materials.
The forth source of inspiration is inspiration that comes from working on other projects. Maybe I'm working on an interior in Singapore. I may somehow find a relationship between this work in Singapore and a watch I am designing in Italy. Internally,
inside of you, you have all these things that I’ve talked about, memories, childhood...
I was brought up in 60's and 70's when society was very utopist, and it was probably a time with the most disregard for adhering to standards in design because people were interested in changing their lives then. So being a child I was brought with this idea that one day we would be living in a utopia. That was probably a big inspiration to me, too.

C: Is there any relationship between music and your design?

K: I think music is kind of like immaterial design because music is motive, sensual,
seductive, human and a narrative about living, issues politics
and social life. And I think design is very much about all things, too. It's kind of a
parallel universe of design. I think it is possible for me to make a table like a piece of music. Mass production in industrial design is really interesting to me, and I really think that design is about mass production, not about art.
It is possible to make a physical product that is very popular, beautiful and so well accepted and so public as music is. You can write a popular song and it touches everybody.
And you can make objects in design this way. I think in design it is more difficult to do this, but you can.

C: Are you thinking doing something new? What do you want to design something new from now?

K: Of course. I'm working on 70 projects, 25 countries. I'm doing everything from
jewelry, watches, shoes, phones, computer, furniture, lighting, interiors, restaurants, shops, buildings, hotel, vacuum cleaners… I have passion for all of them. I'm very excited about all of them.
If you have so many project to work on you forget some of them.
I'm doing all plastic shoes with the company in Brasil and we just got samples in this morning. I haven't thought about the project for 3 months. I became thrilled and at the same time frustrated, because I wanted it to be better than what it was. I'm not quite satisfied by everything. I think anybody who is creative is never satisfied. Because there is no absolute notion of creativity.
Creativity is abstract, so you can never really say that something is complete.

Karim Rashid
Industrial Designer

text by Kazumi UMEZAWA, photo by Noho KUBOTA
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