On many levels, New York designer Sasha Bikoff can relate to the surreal. Her career blasted off with the digital publication of a glam 4,700-square-foot apartment at the Dakota. The article on the renovation in MyDomaine drew clients, and eventually she was dubbed "interior designer for the young and wealthy" by The New York Times.
And then there was the amazing kaleidoscopic staircase designed for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House in 2018. Insta hit on the gram. One of those images caught the eye of Donatella Versace, who put it on a mood board and tapped Bikoff to design space in the revered Palazzo Versace in Milan during the prestigious Salone del Mobile week last spring.
And now everything is surreal. As in the new normal. Tough for design creatives, who so rely on firsthand life experiences -- travel, art, fashion and nature -- to shape their visions. Even though her Greenwich Village home is cool, she was feeling a bit cooped up. So she shed the stir-craziness and headed to her father's rural Massachusetts home, where her stepmom, a decorator, has a barn full of antiques. "I feel like I'm in the English countryside," she says.
Like many, she is restless. She just can't read a novel or nonfiction these days. But she has been watching "Belgravia" and "Maison Close," and old films from the '60s and '70s. And she's devouring classic design coffee table books like "Dior and His Decorators" and Bunny Williams' "On Garden Style," where she hopes to pick up tips for her own garden. She's building a home in East Hampton, Long Island, and she pictures lots of white and yellow wildflowers -- and veggies.
As one who loves to cook, she's also been a bit nostalgic during the quarantine, focusing lately on Persian cuisine (her mother was from Iran), channeling the time-consuming traditional dishes that her grandmother used to make. She recently made khoresh bademjan, a beef stew with eggplant and tomato.
Admittedly a social butterfly, Bikoff missed the hoopla that would have surrounded her lighting debut at Currey and Co. A virtual rollout replaced the spring market launch in High Point, North Carolina. (Fingers crossed for October!)
The design rock star loves making a glam entrance in the most stylish head-to-toe outfit, often with eye makeup coordinating. Like the time she impressed Donatella in an absinthe green leather Versace dress, topped with an acid green trenchcoat and neon green liquid eyeliner to match. "I don't dress understated, "she says. "It's part of my joy."
For now, Sasha's natural effervescence is dialed down.
"I've been wearing robes and pajamas all day. The most I'll dress up is to put on a sweater and leggings."
She is cautious about being too optimistic about the other side of the pandemic. But she hasn't tossed her rose-colored glasses. This bumpy ride is good for reflection. Fabulous for dreaming, more daydreams, as her sleep cycle has been disrupted.
When life as we knew it was interrupted, the 32-year- old designer was on fire, adding home furnishing licensed collections like charms on a bracelet. Her aesthetic casts a wide net: 18th-century French Rococo ("love its opulence, carved floral gilding and femininity"), 1930s Art Deco (from Miami, France and Italy; "It's about shapes, especially chairs. Of all furniture, I love chairs the best"), 90s Space Age Modern ("exploration and the unknown, bubble and egg shapes"), 1970s French, American and Italian Modernism, and 1980s Italian Memphis Milano.
She's obsessed with disco culture and "anything from the late '70s, early '80s "when NYC was super glam, everyone dressed in Halston and Bill Blass and women started wearing power suits."
Besides the lighting line, there's mosaic tile for New Ravenna. Textiles for Fabricut's Vervain line launched in Paris at Maison et Objet in January. She usually starts with textiles. "It has to do with color and pattern, a way to balance space and move your eyes through it."
There's a common design thread, though her work is anything but common. She boldly tosses pattern and color about, marrying them in unexpected ways, sometimes to a maximalist extreme with elements of Pop art and '50s kitsch, but always chic and sophisticated.
One modern take on toile for Vervain includes charming images of her favorite things: croissants, disco balls, Birkin bags, the Arc de Triomphe, to name a few, in pastel palettes as luscious as macarons. Also velvets: Lipgloss (a hot pink crinkly panne) and La Discotheque, "the other side of velvet, smooth with an iridescence and sprinkled with diamonds on a night sky." It was inspired by a jacket she bought in Paris.
A new chandelier features a circular cluster of lifelike hibiscuses -- her favorite flower -- in white with a coral center with a hint of pink. She's passionate about pink. "It's feminine, happy. Close to nude. It represents 'girl power' to me." And canary yellow -- "it's sunshine. Laughter and joy." Which we all need these days.
"I'm always striving to do something different," she says. "Kind of be revolutionary and innovative with my design. What I create is not for everyone, but I want people to talk about it."
She credits her mom and grandmother for her style sense. "They were so fashionable. My grandmother was a tastemaker -- taught me gardening and floral arranging, decorating with Persian and European antiques. She hosted the most beautiful parties."
From her, Bikoff learned to appreciate French and Italian couture -- "the construction, material and prints, the craft and artistry." She doesn't enjoy shopping, though, unless she's traveling. Then it's among her favorite things to do -- "like going to a museum."
"I like to see how things are merchandised. And I love vintage shops. John Galliano from the Dior days. Chanel from the '80s and '90s. Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana. I love to mix vintage with new."
That's exactly what she does with her interiors. They're rich in character, sometimes whimsical, high-low.
"Period pieces are often very playful," she says, with intricate carvings of flowers, fruits or birds. "You can modernize antique classical pieces with fabric."
As an art history and fine arts major, she took advantage of college time in Paris, living in the Saint-German arrondissement, painting, visiting art galleries and scouring chic antique shops, as well as the Marche aux Puces. Bikoff actually had had visions of becoming a pop singer -- she even had a record contract at 18 -- but her grandfather totally nixed the idea, insisting on college.
Eventually Bikoff took a job at the prestigious Gagosian Art Gallery in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood. "I learned a lot about business and discipline," she says, but she yearned for the creative. And at age 25, in 2013, she opened her eponymous firm. An avid collector (she once owned about 100 Memphis pieces), she currently has an online shop and is a dealer on 1st Dibs (www.1stdibs.com).
When Bikoff took on that very heady interiors job at the Dakota -- for her mom -- her guiding philosophy was: "Art is the highest form of creativity. For me, design is functional art. When you enter a space, it should inspire, ignite a sense of creativity. Tell a story. Engage us in how life is, who we are."
She approached the job as if she were painting, starting with the walls, floors and ceiling, building up layers like paint pigment and texture. "Then, surround then yourself with things you love, that tell a wonderful romantic story.
"My mother believed in me," says Bikoff, who admits she was in waaay over her head. "My goal was to constantly make her happy." It was a bittersweet time, as her mother was battling cancer; she died just two year later, in 2015.
"I'm a bit of an old soul," she admits. "I always say, if I were reborn, it would be in 19th-century France or '70s disco, Studio 54 days. I definitely have an affinity for the past and people always dressing up, not just in jeans and T-shirts. "
As for the future, so much still is unknown. There's an outdoor furniture line in the works, and residential projects on hold. "I would like to do a tabletop collection, hotels in New York and Miami."
And Sasha Bikoff will be ready for her next act. She recently posted a Botticelli-inspired image of a Hollywood star standing in a giant scallop shell, like the masterpiece "Birth of Venus." Her caption: "Me, emerging from quarantine."
"I am a romantic," she says. "I believe in dreams and happy endings."
-- Currey and Co., 877-768-6428, www.curreyandcompany.com
-- New Ravenna, 757-442-3379, www.newravenna.com
-- Sasha Bikoff Interior Design, 646-524-5941, www.sashabikoff.com
-- Versace Home Collection, 888-721-7219, www.versace.com
-- Vervain, 800-611-8686, www.fabricut.com/vervain