Karim Rashid: Let's reinvent clothes 'as if the world hadn't existed before'

Updated 22nd July 2015
Credit: courtesy karim rashid inc
Karim Rashid: Let's reinvent clothes 'as if the world hadn't existed before'
Written by Matthew Ponsford, CNN
Karim Rashid's clothes don't fit. When the 54-year-old design demi-god pulls on his trademark candy-coloured suit-combos, they're never quite right, he admits. They're the best he can find, but even these don't fit the age we live in.
It's the "digital age," or the "casual age," also the "epoch of the empowerment of the individual," depending on which aspect of the "now" Rashid is evangelizing about at that moment. And our clothes -- look at them: shirt collars, neckties, are you wearing a wristwatch? -- they're 98% assembled from relics of the past.
"It's fake," Rashid cries. "Kitsch."
So we'll start with a blank slate, he suggests, and re-make the clothes we wear each day "as if the world hadn't existed before."
"What I believe in, for example, is if we can get up to speed with this digital age, we won't even need pockets," he says. "-- Right?"
There's more.

'The new digital age'

Twenty years on from his first career paycheck, Karim Rashid is the industrial design iconoclast responsible for over 3500 spectrum-spanning creations that fill kitchen cabinets, bedrooms, and boutique hotels across the globe.
He's the half-Egyptian, half-British designer who turned the humble trash can into a sensual sculpture, a "glamorous" icon of democratic design, and a global industry with 6 million sales and counting. Other curvy creations -- "blobjects" Rashid calls them -- for clients ranging from Veuve Clicquot champagne to Post-it note makers 3M have earned him 300 design awards and counting.
Although, awards, they're "kitsch" too, apparently.
"Blobjects": Rashid's Oh Chair, perfume botttle for Estee Lauder, and the Garbo trash can
"Blobjects": Rashid's Oh Chair, perfume botttle for Estee Lauder, and the Garbo trash can Credit: Courtesy Karim Rahid
For someone who's produced so much stuff, it's a surprise when Rashid begins by saying how keen he is to "dematerialize" the world.
We're running headlong into 100,000 years of human experience, he explains: "There's a massive schism: between the analog age and the digital age."
courtesy Karim Rashid
courtesy Karim Rashid
As Rashid looks back on his first two decades in practice, commemorated in XX -- a new monograph comprising 450 pages of his favorite designs -- he believes we've crossed a point of no return.
The analog age -- "a very material-driven time, where it was really about permanency, and about heaviness and luxury" -- has given way to an "immaterial" digital world, characterized by the "the extreme, hypertrophic amount of information and imagery" made available by any laptop or smartphone.
For the first time in history we we're enjoying life more with less. He heaps praise on visionary young entrepreneurs creating remarkable new immaterial products, like Skype and Google, which is when he comes out with that phrase about "the empowerment of the individual." He calls those independent-minded developers "designers," too, and calls on the ones who make physical things to follow suit. His message: "Objects, today, need to be a beautiful extension of this new digital age we live in."

"Not from this planet"

Rashid continues to add new objects to the world: current projects include the interior of an airplane, 11 buildings around the world through a new architecture practice, and "products like coffee machines and blenders and toasters," from a just-launched studio in Shenzhen, China. But he says his approach has profoundly changed.
These new products must be "really contributive," he says. "In other words, I want to do things that are more social-conscious."
That might not mean what you think it means, though. The smartest design, he explains, does away with any number of items. It's like the iPhone, which emptied our pockets of CD Walkmans, point-and-shoot cameras, and address books, and took phoneboxes off street corners for good. Or like Rashid's ubiquitous Bobble water filtering bottle, each of which, he claims, can save 300 disposable bottles from landfill.
He remains emphatic about design's value -- "Really you could argue that design is what's shaping, and evolving, and progressing humanity," he says -- but believes designers should be educated and incentivised to do better.
He slams the design world at large, most of which he claims has no contribution whatsoever.
"The meaning of design is a little bit lost," he says. Design schools are too focused on archetypes, he says, like designing 60,000 new resource-sapping items of furniture each year for Milan Design Week, when the focus should be on uncluttering existence.
More than anything, he seems exasperated by everyday objects: housekeys, wristwatches, and especially passports -- he's running to 108 visa-stamped pages from trips to 40 countries worldwide where he works, and which he's forced to replace straight after our interview.
But there's hope: he believes he has sorted out keys -- he's designing a condominium building in New York City that uses fingerprint technology from the street to your room -- and he'll work on the rest.
That line about a pocket-less world, then, is one where clutter and kitsch is gone.
For Rashid, this is the dream: "A lot of days, I wake up in the morning and pretend I'm not from this planet," he confesses.
"And when I do that I sometimes think how uncomfortable, how strange, how complex this world is. And how we have control to make it simpler and easier and better."
This is where clothes come in.
The 25-storey "MyBrickell Urban Condo" building in Miami, Florida, designed by Karim Rashid
The 25-storey "MyBrickell Urban Condo" building in Miami, Florida, designed by Karim Rashid Credit: Courtesy Karim Rashid

2015: A Style Odyssey

In the sci-fi films of 60s space age -- of which Rashid is self-consciously a product -- the one-piece dream reigned:
"What we predicted in films like Logan's Run... is these kind of one-piece bodysuits, and this idea of something that's very flexible -- super comfortable." And not a pocket in sight.
Instead reality delivered a $1.2 trillion global fashion industry that takes its lead from designers in thrall of craft and tradition, which routinely fires historic styles back into the limelight for public consumption.
"Why would I want to be a man that looks like a lumberjack, wearing shoes that look like they're handmade, from the turn of the century, when in fact I have a smart phone in my pocket?" he asks, casting ire with equal force at historical vestiges such as lapels, ties, and buttons on the sleeves of jackets. "These things are completely disparate -- aren't they? I mean they're absurd."
"A lot of days, I wake up in the morning and pretend I'm not from this planet," says Rashid.
"A lot of days, I wake up in the morning and pretend I'm not from this planet," says Rashid. Credit: courtesy Karim Rashid
Like almost everything he says, this derision of the current state of "chaos" is struck through with optimism for an age in which he believes "we are finally solving the world's problems."
It's a safe bet that Rashid's pocketless future -- like most of his oeuvre -- would be colorful. He also speaks glowingly of the fashion design that isn't mired in history: modern running shoes and smart fabrics, included.
In fact, it'll probably look something like the super-comfortable joggers and lace-free trainers Rashid confesses a fondness for wearing on plane journeys -- only better.
So, when will we see them? He's working on it, having conversations with clothing brands, but there's nothing solid yet.
And here's the sign the world is not quite ready for Rashid's vision -- a pocketless, anti-historic society -- in 2015.
In a moment that suggests the eccentric designer knows the world of fashion might be reluctant to take its lead from a white-suited extraterrestrial, he admits: "Nothing has panned out, because I think their fear is, and my fear is -- I guess -- that it's not going to sell very well!" He laughs.