Christian Rice was one of the founding members of HNDSM. His aesthetic influence was foundational for the brand and can be seen today in much of our DNA. He is now the Art Director of Adsum, a brand we have abundant admiration for. Recently, Christian and I caught up over lunch at Maman in Green Point, Brooklyn.
While we are both based in New York now, Christian and I met in Toronto 20 years ago. Naturally the interview kicked off with: just why is Toronto so awesome?
"I think it’s all the cliche things that you hear - at least as a person who lived in Toronto. First of all, number one for me, is always the people. From my story, going to high school was super formative. I met some of the best people that are still life long friends, friends that still make trips to New York to hang. It seems like this community that always sticks together. There are jokes in New York about the Canadian Mafia and if you’re from Toronto you feel instantly connected to those people and that area.
But it’s also all the basic things we were talking about earlier; its clean, it’s just a clean place full of friendly people. It is super multicultural so you get the flavor that that brings. It is kind of tucked away and its own thing so it feels a little more genuine that way, there’s no pressure there. You can live in Toronto and just do your thing; everyone knows everyone. It’s nice and what a city should be to me, in terms of the amount of people there and the balance between downtown versus the suburbs. It’s all integrated. It doesn’t feel overbearing and there is still industry. I like it a lot."
[Note: The 'Canadian Mafia' refers to Canadians that have moved to The US and found each other. There is an uncanny pattern of Canadians unknowingly being drawn together, forming friendships and looking out for each other. The HNDSM team is included.]
Aside from New York and Toronto, where else could you see yourself living?
"It is constantly changing. I mean never say never to anything. I’m open to the whole world but as I get older, land and space becomes more and more appealing. It feels like the easy and common thing for people from New York is to start looking upstate so you can go downtown if you want to spend time there and still feel connected. There is an artery there but you can spend most of your time somewhere else. You know, friends are moving to Florence and Berlin; the whole world is on the table. I loved Stockholm when I went over there. Copenhagen is one of the coolest places that I’ve been to recently. I’d live there. Somehow, if I could move to Tokyo, I would live there. It’s kind of about the opportunity and where things work. My family is in Virginia and I’d live there. Everything is on the table."
Did you like your name growing up?
"That has been through phases. I think I was a weird kid where I never thought about my name. It wasn’t important to me, it was just my name. It almost seemed for lack of a better term, divine, that’s my name and why would I even question it type of thing. My brother (whose name is John), came to my parents one time and wanted to be named Michael or something. I think I always liked Christian. I liked the way it looked and the way it sounded.
As I got older, the religious connotations came in which was interesting for me because I honestly hadn’t thought about that. All the names in my family are Christian based; Christine, Tom, John. That’s about as religious as you can get. Religion was seen as important in the household but it was open. Buddhism and other cultures were always taught and I had Jewish and Muslim friends growing up. Religion was just one piece of it. But then, I thought it was weird to be identified with the religion that I’m not super in line with nor very much committed to. I’ve even gone through phases of questioning things but to me it’s kind of been an agnostic name. It’s just been my name. Luckily there have been famous Christians in the past that I could always look to even if I didn’t necessarily admire them. There are brand names with “Christian” and I’d always be okay with it.
There are weird benefits to the name. Sometimes, for better or worse, people would just automatically assume you were a good kid if you were named Christian. I would be meeting parents of girls as a plus one and I’m accepted walking through the door. I like the name now. It has gone through all the phases. It’s also a dedication to my mom."
While sipping on my coffee, I wondered, "What would you have named yourself as a kid?"
"It would probably would have been Tyrannosaurus Chocolate Monster. DJ Underpants is the only name I have given to myself."
AJ: There's a lot to choose from, but I think DJ Underpants is probably my favorite branding that you’ve done.
"I appreciate it. I think the real ones know. It definitely helps split the wheat from the chaff. If people don’t get down with DJ Underpants and they don’t get that it is a joke then it’s kind of like, that’s your problem."
As Christian and I were reaching the bottom of our lunch bowls, I asked one of my favorite questions. "What is something you think everyone should experience in their life?"
"The one idea that feels truest is studying philosophy.
It was so helpful to me during a formative time in my life and when I look around the world today, I think it’s more important than anything I studied. It taught me a lot of alternative viewpoints and critical thinking and to try to look at problems at all sides and through many lenses."
As we wrapped up and got ready to head out, I was curious to know what Christian's favorite moment of the day was.
"I think seeing you, honestly. One of the great things about New York City is everyone comes through here so you don’t have to go anywhere. You can still keep up these relationships with people because there is always an excuse to come to New York and see an old face. You and I go back 20 years. You’re the longest friend I’ve ever had because I moved so much. You’re the longest friend I’ve kept in touch with. We are still friends and we still hang out. It is a taste of home whenever I see you."