“I want an Interview with Karim Rashid!”, Declared at regular intervals to the general manager of the Athenaeum Company, when I learned that he assumed to design the Hotel Semiramis at Kifissia. He will come, we’ll make the Interview by phone…by e-mail… “No face to face”. That’s because I always have the desire to read the aura of the man opposite me.The years go by, I change course, but the desire remains constant, so one day after the beginning of the Athens Olympic Games in Athens (13/8/04) I met the legend of Contemporary Design, a man that for years, his fascination attracted me strongly, which thankfully he still retains this gift, in the chaos of his successful New York-based life, that this period includes 70 projects at the same time and a lot of lectures … in every area of the globe.
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Semiramis Hotel-Athens Archive
Once you stated that “I want to change the world”, Do you think that since you made this statement until today, your wish came true?” Eventually through your work and your opinionsprojected by your job, you have changed the world?
I think that was one of the statements that I did not expect that would cause so many controversies, especially in the community of designers. Many were those who thought it was arrogant, others said it was for the money, you know it was a very confusing reaction. And I was surprised, because I thought that all educated people want to change the world.I believe this is a natural need, we have the passion to see this big change and to live in a better world, more pleasant that fills us with experiences and emotion. I believe that design is the most powerful tool that relieves the spirit. The above statement was in my previous book, the last three years, I am writing a new book to be released in October and is titled “Evolution”.
“Evolution”, is the sequel of the previous one?
Yes, In reality, however, is the work of the last ten years.
Looking around me, but also in the book, I find that you are using a lot the color and I see a fancy in the pink…
When I was a teenager, I designed the costume that for my graduation, I went to a tailor to sew it and it was all pink and also dyed my hair and my nails pink. The year was 1976. It was in 1976, about 30 years ago. I think the pink is the color that represents me, that speaks about lots of things.
Is the color that symbolizes…
First of all, love. Second is a color that makes you feel good and fills you with optimization. I believe in a better future. I was giving a lecture in Stockholm and just I was saying this, that I believe in a bright future with technology, virtual and all those that provide us with a better way of life. I feel very optimistic about all this.
What role is playing the nature into your projects?
The most important to me are the human beings. And for this I study and observe the human behavior. For that reason I am interested to design things in a pattern of feedback, so anyone can feel comfortable and pleasant. The actual nature does not inspire me, because I believe that there is not something else that has to offer. Instead I am inspired from technology, production departments and new materials.
I observe a particular passion for the cycle and the circular forms.
Right because are more humane. They are like our body, actually is an extension of the body.
They are very feminine!
The human body is very sexual. Under all of us, there is a latent sexuality. I think I’m a very sexual person and this is very natural.I believe that many people like my work because it emphasizes this side. I truly believe in it. There is no better thing than a hug, a caress, a kind of contact, which proves that we need each other and need this warmth to channel it on our natural environment. This way we will be more effusive, with good mood and thus we’ll give meaning to things and more pleasure in the psychological, physical, erotic and spiritual field.
This is perfectly normal. Browsing through your book, the part that impressed me was the titles of articles. Some are directly linked with the Eastern religions. Do you believe that you are creating the right conditions, through objects, colors and titles for good karma?
This photo was taken just before I throw away black clothes, 1999, Now I just wear white, some pink and sometimes golden clothes. These colors exude optimism and I am sure that everyone working here do not wear black!!! I really believe in karma and that the more you doing for other people, reciprocated back to you again.
So, you believe in karma!
I believed, and I still believe that nothing is accidental in the world! Somehow, we can control our destiny.
We think we have the control, but actually, this is not true.
The method, however, I consider that someone might have good karma is very simple. You have to be polite to others, to love humanity and behave properly.
Really when you met Dakis Joannou for first time? We know that first you designed his apartment in New York. When you proposed to take over the Semiramis Hotel?
I knew Jeffrey Deitch, who introduced me to the Dakis. One day, I was in his apartment, discussing various things and told me that he had some thoughts about Semiramis and that he wanted to take over. I was thrilled, because before I was working on a project for a hotel in Miami, which never materialized.
I do not know, about 20 years, Ι was planning objects and products, but after I worked a restaurant in Philadelphia which fortunately worked very well.
Why you say fortunately? Because it was very risky?
Yes, and because I gave me other plans and ideas.
Semiramis Hotel in Athens was a challenge for you?
Big! When I arrived at this Hotel, the area that is now the pool was very depressing. There is a large wall and around it many buildings that are so dark … it was a difficult challenge in many fields. In a hotel you have the architecture, but also people that should move easily in it, how the spaces will be, but also how to create a human experience through small but particular things. How you manage to do the visitors to feel comfortable and experiencing a sublime experience when they are at their rooms.When I first showed some of the rooms, they were small, this therefore makes the challenge even greater for me.
Do you like the combination of your work with the art works of Jeff Koons?
A lot, they matching perfectly…
You come from a country that I admire your ancient culture, it has many similarities to our own. This historic moment, was important to you, the Olympic Games, for completing this project?
Arguably, it was unbelievable last night, I was thinking that it was the first time I was in a opening ceremony, it was amazing. Surely the time was right. It is also the moment that Athens has managed to create a pleasant atmosphere, it becomes strong, a western metropolis regaining, her destiny! The funny thing was that the last days I gave interviews to many Greeks, who were uneasy. In the hotel many people told me -with a negative tone in their voice- that this is not New York, this is Athens and that the Greeks did not appreciate all these. I answered them that they were kidding! I believe that Greece has a driving artistic sensitivity greater than many other cities. After that I saw the public works, the new roads, the new airport and I felt that Athens has become Paris!
I love that city!
The Greek sensitivity is very refined. People, interested in the arts and culture. Things are going well here, I observe also that magazines, generally have a sense of needing to become part of the 21st century global culture.
Since we mentioned the rooms, the artworks are …
Most mine and some of them my wife’s. It is primarily organic forms that spring from the virtual reality, since with the use of technology we can create a new language.
The artwork in the pool, is a mosaic influenced by Egyptian culture, connects the past with the future?
Actually, I believe that there is a strong connection.
That’s what attracts me to your work, that connects the past with the present, the eastern and the western element.
I regard myself as a global citizen. I have Canadian citizenship, US green card, on the other hand I have Egyptian name and I’m half Irish.
Do you think that your origin was an obstacle?
Instead, I feel part of the whole world I do not feel that I belong somewhere. I feel free and I like it. Many claim that in my work, I reflected my Egyptian side. I think when you are young and begin to develop your ideas in reality is not yours ideas, they are copied from others. However, when we grow up, your work becomes more personal, acquires its own identity. Therefore, I realize that things that previously I did subconsciously, are originated from my blood, are the symbols that I work for twenty years, trying to build a personal alphabet.
“Here and now”, so “It’s the only thing that we have!”
I have written this?… Yes, this is all we have to enjoy. I do not understand when I am in a meeting and people say that this project went well, but it is risky and we have to make changes or when they looking to find alternatives. And then I say that: We live only once, so why just do not realize or do not try this thing. Let’s try to pleasure ourselves with new things!
First Publication: ‘’Icons’’, Insert at Ethnos Newspaper
© Interview-Efi Michalarou