Designer Karim Rashid on pink shirts and how to make the world more interesting

Designer Karim Rashid has liked wearing pink since he was kid. You might even call his love of pink eccentric. His father was a stage designer in Paris when he met his mother. At the age of six, they traveled to Canada. On the way over, Karim won a drawing competition organized by the passengers to pass the time.

His father liked to rearrange their furniture. Its a habit he’s picked up. Artists, he says, live in the now. Most of us live in the past.

But the designer who is famous for his unique, functional, and avante garde designs is quick to distinguish himself from being an artist. Art, he says, is a selfish activity. Design depends on pleasing many. Users, clients, builders. You have to be considerate of all the people and steps that go into the ultimate use of the thing you are designing.

Still, Karim’s lens on the world is that of an artist. He sees in most of what is designed today a banality, which he describes as sad. Sameness of design is like sameness of taste, or music. Imagine, he postulates, if you only had 2 or 3 tastes, or only played 3 or 4 notes. That is what bland design is like. That is a big part of why he uses colour so prominently in his design. He approaches vibrancy to his design because, as his logic runs, life is vibrant and design, good design, should be similarly rich.

Karim spent hours drawing when he was young. He had a kind of relentless passion for sketching that allowed him, eventually, to be able to simply imagine a thing in his head and then bring it to life on paper almost effortlessly. It is an urgent transference which, he says, depends on him acting quickly “else he might lose the image”.

He is seen as bold and uncompromising; but, he says he compromises a lot. He must in order to have a business and get clients. But still, he does not allow his designs to be banal. And he knows this costs him business. Especially his affection for colour.

“I once suggested to my team that we should take my entire portfolio and have it printed just in black and white, and then show that to prospective clients. Then once they’ve signed us for a project we can do whatever we want.”

There is something unsettling about the thought that today, as we are supposed all be more open minded and accepting, there is a pervasive conformity. That to be successful you have to compromise your artistic insight. That somehow, even someone as bold as Karim, has a lid put on his potential.

Imagine if we were less concerned about what was accepted and willing to embrace the new. The world would be open to the new. It would have to shake off the banal.

It would become, simply, more interesting.

The above is based an interview that aired Tuesday February 16, 2016 on CBC’s
Wachtel On The Arts. You can download the interview here: