Karim Rashid on a genderless world, design, style, and the fading tribe of the metrosexual man

THE MAN spoke to Karim Rashid about the brief appearance of the metrosexual man and his views on the trend.

Picture: Lupe de la Vallina Picture: Lupe de la Vallina

Edgy, evocative, futuristic, detailed-to-perfection, unabashedly colourful and sensual are only some of the attributes of Karim Rashid’s designs. At a personal level, the man can carry off a pink suit and how! A touchstone of luxurious living, any product,space or a project that gets his touch is catapulted into the haloed realm of the uber-luxe. Turning stereotypes on their head, Karim’s underlying mantra for everyday use products is, ‘when not in use, it must have contemporary beauty to offer’. An industrial designer with over 4000 designs in production sold in 40 countries — from a toothbrush and a water-bottle to a skyscraper, he has designed them all. One could take the liberty of drawing a metaphor of a friendly dragon who spews edgy fluidity onto materials to create fascinating everyday-use products. How else does one gauge the length and breadth of his body of work? And it’s not just products, he has also designed the graphics and packaging for Paris Baguette, and graphics and branding for several other companies. 

For New York-based, Cairo-born, Ottawa-raised Karim Rashid, the initiation into design, post his education as an industrial product designer, was an apprenticeship to none other than Ettore Sottsass in Milan. Moving rapidly across genres and materials, all his designs have one thing in common — ‘attitude’. As someone comfortable with  breaking glass ceilings, THE MAN spoke to him about the brief appearance of the metrosexual man and his views on the trend. 

How and why did metrosexuality become such a huge wave so silently?

Metrosexuality is about a way of being, a love and respect for one’s immediate environment and oneself. It was style! But style should be a mirror and reflection of the time in which we live and not just appropriating the past. We live in an age of transparency of creativity and of individualism. This makes us more aware of our mortality than ever before in history. Hence, we are more in tune with contemporaneity. So everything around us becomes much better, visually and mentally.

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Did metrosexual mean different things in different cultures or was it the same everywhere? 

Its origins are in Western Europe, and as a matter of fact, it has nuances in each culture. It is a fact that our sexuality has become a pertinent player in the digital world due to the Information Age, global communication, and our visual culture. There are 1.2 billion images being generated everyday. Hence, we are informed about looking good, living longer, and fear growing old. Technological breakthroughs in healthcare, plastic surgery, skincare etc. are vital. This has created a perpetual global media frenzy to finally take notice that men, like women, can take care of themselves and age well.

Picture: Nikola Blagojevic / Spektroom Picture: Nikola Blagojevic / Spektroom

How and why did the decline happen? Where have they disappeared? 

I think the metrosexual has turned into the wellness wave. Self-care is the new mantra that is universal to all. Gender lines are blurred to the non-binary and no one cares if men wear nail polish or are sharply dressed.

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The metrosexual man is not dead, in fact 'he' is just growing by numbers daily. So maybe men won’t drive their existence through greed or testosterone-driven ego and violence, and become sensitive and caring, turning into creatures who care for themselves and the world around them.

In my opinion, we need the metrosexuals to counter the anti-establishment trend. What can be done?  

We live in the casual age! Casualisation allows us to drop the facades of dress code, ritual, tradition, and formality. It does away with the stigma of metrosexual. It frees us to be who we are and express the way we feel. I now wear all white, all pink, all black. The metrosexual is a man who is more sensitive, has more female traits and hence feels deeper about beauty, about caring, about being sensitive to others, and more aware of himself.

Design is about refined sensibilities. One of the attributes of a metrosexual is high sensitivity to design. Your comments? 

Picture: Oscar Valle Picture: Oscar Valle

Someone once said that I make masculine forms feminine. I always wanted to live in a universal world, where everything is beautiful, everything well designed, where our built environments are not age or gender biased. Perhaps, I was a unisex in a past life.

Can design be correlated with sociology in order to better our social environment? 

Good design can shift and change human behaviour and create new social conditions. I preach about how design shapes the culture and future. I believe that design is extremely consequential to our daily lives and can positively change the behaviour of humans. Products and furniture must deal with our emotional ground, thereby increasing popular imagination and experience. Bad design creates encumbrances, acts as a stressor, complicates tasks, and brings no beauty into the world. I am interested in designing products as Rapture of Experience. Our lives are elevated when we experience beauty, comfort, luxury, performance, and utility seamlessly together. I am interested in showing the world how a contemporary physical world can be warm, soft, human and pleasurable.

Also read: Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli’s canvas is an extension of his exuberant life

Would you agree that design is a reflection of collective social consciousness? 

In some ways, yes. But consumers aren’t to be trusted to define the collective. I believe in individuality and customisation, but I am hired to design because I am an expert with 30 years of vision, research, and manufacturing know-how.

From product design to User Interface to AI design. Will design remain in the human domain or should we prepare to see design through AI where humans only feed data? 

The modern man has greater experiences with the digital than the physical, so the physical has to become as exciting and seductive, as colourful, and flexible, as personalisable. This is the modern landscape that we live in. I can’t wait for a future where we will have immaterial products for communication, entertainment and information, multilingual voice chips, and Smartoos (intelligent tattoos that contain ID numbers, passport, social security, bank account, e-money, etc. so I never need a wallet, money or credit cards). Spaces will no longer be built on the Cartesian grid, but will become soft and amorphous and flexible for our needs. I’m a believer that the world shouldn't have borders and boundaries at all.

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Your thoughts on the Slow Movement.

I think it will never prevail. Our world is embracing speed, we just need to do it responsibly, sensitively, and with a healthy modus operandi.

If you could do one thing over again what would it be and why? 

I would have had a child sooner. My daughter is amazing. She is very intelligent and curious. It’s fascinating to see life through her eyes. I learn so much from her. We’re trying to introduce her to so many beautiful inspiring things like my father did for me. I love sharing my joy of drawing and design with her. My wife, daughter and I visit museums, galleries and architecture landmarks around the world.

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