Karim Rashid, the industrial designer who grew up in Toronto, is universally recognized as a barometer of chic. The "poet of plastic," as Time magazine dubbed him, has created designs for clients as diverse as Alessi, Prada, Umbra and Kenzo. When the Carleton University grad says something's in, it's in.
And so, with word trickling in that the Canadian king of cool is buying up real estate in Belgrade, all eyes are on the Serbian capital.
"I love Serbia and I have a fascination with Eastern Europe in general," Mr. Rashid, 47, explained in an interview conducted by e-mail this week.
"For me, Paris, London, Milan, Stockholm, Madrid, Barcelona and even New York are very tired and banal. They do not inspire me as cities. I see Eastern Europe as the next upcoming place - everyone is psyched and enthusiastic about the rebuilding of these poetic, romantic, artistic and very intellectual places that were suppressed for years via socialist/communist regimes."
Buying in Belgrade makes sense for Mr. Rashid, who recently purchased an apartment in the centrally located King Alexander Boulevard district. He is frequently in the Balkan city these days. Projects include designing the new hip Majic Café, a new brand identity for the Serbian pharmaceutical company Pharmanova and a range of products for the Serbian manufacturer Metalac. He is also designing a hotel in Belgrade and a Serbian computer for ComTrade.
In 2006, he was ambassador of the first Belgrade Design Week, to which he invited some of his international designer pals, among them Ross Lovegrove, Gaetano Pesce and Konstantin Grcic.
"I keep my fees very low for Eastern Europe," Mr. Rashid added. "I've been approached by so many companies."
Language is not an issue. Mr. Rashid has a Serbian girlfriend, Ivana Puric, a chemical engineer, whom he met at a party he threw in Belgrade four years ago: "I was all in pink," he said, "in a big crowd of fabulous people with everyone dressed up very fancy, and I saw her walk in with about seven men."
While Manhattan no longer inspires Mr. Rashid, it remains the centre of the design universe, so he frequently returns to keep tabs on his design studio, Karim Rashid Inc..
On his most recent trip, he brought a bit of Belgrade back with him. "Ivana," he e-mails, "has moved to New York with me this week, and [is]finishing her PhD [at]NYU."
Once she's done, it will be back to Serbia, where, he writes, "we [have]designed a very kool little apartment full of my designs."