Garbo and Its Discontents

  • 2016-01-20
  • Metropolis

Chatting recently with an industrial designer friend about household objects, Umbra’s Garbo trashcan came up. The wastebasket, along with its miniature sister the Garbino, is in its 20th year of production. With more than seven million sold, the curvy plastic receptacle made trashcans sexy and established Karim Rashid, the Garbo’s designer, as a fresh and adventurous voice in household products. My friend, let’s call him Aldo, said he didn’t get it. The shape, the curvature, the high-intensity color palette, all for him made the can into an ostentatious object that imposed itself on spaces rather than accommodating them. “Besides,” he went on, “what does it tell me about the world? What is it about?”

Surely there must be something about this thing, I thought, that has made it into a ubiquitous, brandless classic, on par with those orange-handled scissors (by Fiskars) and that insulated flask (by Thermos). As far as trashcans go, it works, just as it brings contour and color to interiors that, by and large, lack variety in those departments. And yet, with so many sold, and its status as a design icon assured by inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, the can clearly captured something of the zeitgeist.