Toronto Pearson’s newest ALT Hotel to explain concepts of design—essentialism, originality—and how less can be more…
The man has a manifesto. Correction: a Karimanifesto, in which he waxes poetic on design, nostalgia, manufacturing, and best of all, beauty. “Every business,” says Karim Rashid, “should be completely concerned with beauty.” Meet him and you’ll understand how Karim Rashid could have the chutzpah to produce such a meaningful manifesto… or any manifesto. The acclaimed industrial designer has presence, a towering presence. He’s lanky and tall, with hair cut close to his brow, a slight hunch, and a long, loping gait that, when put all together, turns the heads of patrons—every single patron—of any room he’s entering. It helps, natch!, that he’s often dressed all in white, from foot to head—white shoes, white trousers, white jacket. There are white-framed sunglasses as well. The effect is mesmerizing. Also mesmerizing: Rashid’s list of product designs and moldings of industrial spaces. Examples: Raynor Group’s Chakras Chair in 2010. Umbra’s Skinny Can in 2011. MGM’s 2009 Sweet Chill—a Las Vegas gelateria with the yummy, flowing lines of a swirl of ice cream. His creations in lighting, furniture, spaces and fashion have been labeled “organic,” “ultra-bright,” and “ever positive.” There are more than 3000 of Karim Rashid’s designs currently in production. And there are more than 300 design accolades—Red Dot Awards, iF Packaging Design Awards—for these innovations. As I said, mesmerizing.
Karim Rashid and I meet once, and only once, at Groupe Germain’s latest opening, the Alt Hotel Toronto Pearson. Raised in Toronto, Rashid is back to help launch the city’s stylish new Alt, with its snug beds, spa-style rain showers, rockers in the lobby and a giant swing chair. The event is titled We Do Less—a conference in this age of excess on re-emerging ideas of living with less. Having less… but also having quality. As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once put it: “Less is more.” Rashid’s role at this conference is to capture audience views and encourage discussion, but also to explain his own theories on doing more with less. From the very first, Rashid makes it clear minimalism as a style is not his style. He does not buy into objects that are simple and perfect to look at—designed from “pure geometry”—if it means those items can’t be useful. “I find minimalism as a style to be very inhuman,” he explains. “As a designer, as much as I can appreciate all that, I find you can’t really live that way. We need a softer world.” Rashid’s plan instead is to produce items that are reductive but also more human. “I try to design objects that are an extension of our bodies,” he says. “For example, a shower head. If I made it a perfect circle it would slip out of our hand. That’s minimalism, and it’s based on style… pure geometry. Instead, I’d be interested in designing a shower head that’s reductive, but that works really well. I call it essentialism.” As he says this, Karim Rashid is seated in the far corner of Alt’s Zen-inspired lobby. He spins in his chair and surveys the room. “You walk into this hotel,” he says, “and you see that it’s actually fairly minimal. But there’s a kind of human character about it. That’s what I gravitate to…”
Beyond essentialism, Karim Rashid is also interested—always interested—in uniqueness. “What I’m motivated by,” he proclaims, “is having a chance to do things that are original.” Rashid says he spends a good portion of his days in talks with new clients about the concept of originality—how it can set them apart, and how it can expand their futures. “People are being driven by marketing versus their willingness to do something original,” he insists. “I spend a lot of time explaining to companies how they can set themselves apart rather than follow the status quo. If they follow others, they’ll only ever get a slice of the market. If they set themselves apart, they’ll build their own market. Design creates its own market.” “An example would be Apple,” Rashid continues. “They really set themselves apart from the rest of the computer world. It’s amazing what they did. It’s beautiful branding. In a sense, they’re saying: We don’t really care what the rest are doing, we’re doing something you’ll want, you’ll need, and you’ll desire. I’ve been conscious of that for many, many years.”
Oddly, this is where Rashid’s theories on minimalism, essentialism and originality meet. In the Alt lobby conducting our interview, the industrial designer reveals—at least in part—his next mystery project: working with an automaker to design an electric vehicle. “I have a car project on now,” he says coyly, “I’m not allowed to say with whom…” Regardless, Rashid promises an auto unlike anything we’ve seen before. “Right now we’re at a turning point with the automobile,” he says. “We had petroleum and now we’re moving to electric. Yet somehow we’re putting the electric car into the same body as the petroleum car. We don’t even have an engine anymore, so it’s a great opportunity to start from scratch.“ And there’s the rub. No matter for whom or exactly when Rashid’s mystery car will zoom into our consciousness, there is little doubt its design will be a departure from what the designer refers to as “nostalgia,” “antiquated traditions” and “old rituals.” As he states in his charismatic Karimanifesto: “We should be conscious and attune with this world in this moment. If human nature is to live in the past—to change the world is to change human nature.”
We do less
Watch videos of four high-profile guests at the We Do Less event held last November at ALT Hotel Toronto Pearson. Karim Rashid, Hunter Tura, president of Bruce Mau Design, Geneviève Borne, globetrotter and TV personality, and Andrew Milne, president of bv02, explain how they apply this philosophy in their respective fields.
To watch the videos, click here.
Drop by our ALT Hotels Facebook page every day to take part in conversations inspired by the We Do Less philosophy.
Published in CHIC par Germain magazine, issue 5
By Lori Knowles